Now there’s a twist — a young woman being ordered to gain weight in order to better compete as an Olympic athlete.
Great story in The New York Times about American ice dancer Tanith Belbin, by reporter Juliet Macur:
Heading into their second Games, Belbin and Agosto, the Olympic silver medalists in 2006, are once again among the favorites to win a medal in the competition, which begins Friday with the compulsory dance. What should give them an edge this time, Belbin said, is something she would have never dreamed could help them: her newly found muscles and curves.
She can thank one of her coaches, Natalia Linichuk, for that.
Linichuk and Gennadi Karponosov, who were the 1980 Olympic ice dancing champions, began coaching Belbin and Agosto in the summer of 2008, when Belbin and Agosto left suburban Detroit for a fresh start.
Linichuk took one look at the 5-foot-6, 105-pound Belbin and said, “You need to gain 10 pounds.” She said more muscle would help Belbin skate faster and more fluidly.
“At first, I said no way, but then I started to understand that it needed to be done,” said Belbin, who is from Kirkland, Quebec, but holds dual citizenship. “I don’t feel like I had a safe, well-thought-out or well-researched diet until the past few years, until Natalia gave me that ultimatum.”
As it turned out, Linichuk also ended up saving Belbin from a problem that has long plagued figure skaters: disordered eating. Often not as severe as eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, disordered eating involves irregular eating habits that can be fueled by a distorted body image. Belbin said she had struggled with those issues since puberty….
Belbin began marveling at her new body. She had gained 10 pounds. Her waist size increased two inches because her core was so much stronger.
Agosto could see a huge difference in Belbin’s skating. During lifts, she was no longer a sack of potatoes, holding on for dear life. She could hold her positions much better, and that made it easier for Agosto because she did not move around as much.
Belbin says she wishes she had learned the importance of nutrition long ago. She said U.S. Figure Skating officials would have provided a nutritional counselor if she had asked them for one. But that phone call “never fit into her busy day,” Belbin said. In the end, she preferred educating herself.
“The message shouldn’t be, go consult a nutritionist; we need more education,” she said. “Skaters always sit there and wait to be told what to do, but in this case, they need to take the initiative and find out how to eat healthy.”