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Little Girls in Pretty Boxes: The Making and Breaking of Elite Gymnasts and Figure Skaters Paperback – May 1, 1996

3.6 out of 5 stars 161 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Sports columnist Ryan presents an expose of the physical and psychological suffering endured by young Olympic hopefuls.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

YA?In an attempt to focus attention on the high price paid through pain, pressure, and humiliation to become an Olympic champion, Ryan has researched the stories behind some of the young female superstar gymnasts and figure skaters. The extraordinary cost to these young women in body, mind, and spirit is dramatized through the intense subculture dominated by gyms, trainers, parents, and sports officials who press for excellence and success without regard to the health and well-being of those involved. This anecdotal account serves as a warning to all those engaged in competitive sports that children should not be sacrificed to adult egos and the thrills of victory. A book to be pondered by coaches, parents, and young people.?Mary T. Gerrity, Queen Anne School Library, Upper Marlboro, MD
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 243 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; Revised edition (May 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446672505
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446672504
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (161 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #234,512 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on October 24, 1999
Format: Paperback
I think most of the people who gave this book negative reviews are in denial. You can't deny how competitive women's gymnastics and skating are, and how much emphasis is placed on appearance and on winning (look at how Kerri Strug was basically forced to do a vault with a severely injured ankle in the 1996 Olympics--"shake it off," indeed). Even those of us who are merely spectators can see what a high-pressure situation it is, and you can't deny the truth of the stories of Julissa Gomez, Christy Heinrich, and the others. The author is not calling for the abolishment of these sports, just for some changes that might actually make competing a positive, enjoyable experience for the athletes. I hope coaches and parents of the athletes read this book and take it seriously, but most of them will probably deny that it applies to them. Highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback
Prior to 1972, gymnastics was a rather ho-hum sport that appeared to be dominated by eastern European robots with as much appeal as wind-up toys. Especially in the Olympics, the big draws were swimming and track, with gymnastics coverage relegated to the back of the sports pages. But at the Munich Olympics in 1972, among the Russian gymnasts was a tiny 17 year old sprite named Olga Korbut who looked like an elf dangling from a charm bracelet and wowed the crowds in the gym, changing the face of gymnastics overnight. Never mind that Korbut wasn't the best gymnast on the Russian team; she was a natural showgirl. The crowds ate her up. Olga's size (84 pounds) didn't hurt her appeal either. There was a new face on female gymnastics and it was cute, petite, and above all, thin. This was reinforced four years later at Montreal by Nadia Comaneci, who was not only petite, she was barely 14 years old. Combining a formidable talent with an insatiable coach, Nadia tore up the gym to win three gold medals. The formula for a winning gymnast was thus established: take them as young as possible, feed them as little as possible, and train them as hard as possible.

Some girls thrived under this regime; many more cracked (or cracked up). Ryan goes to convincing lengths in describing the results of this training on bodies that were for the most part far too young to handle it: eating disorders (including at least one death from anorexia); severe injuries, including permanent paralysis; and damaged psyches from dealing with demanding coaches and obsessed parents who live vicariously through their children. She also points up that many coaches do not have the requisite training and experience to coach children without subjecting them to serious physical and emotional harm.
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By A Customer on September 22, 2002
Format: Paperback
I was a competitive and professional figure skater and am now a coach. In this book, Joan Ryan says what needs to be said. It is true, as some other reviewers have mentioned, that not all skaters and gymnasts have negative experiences and it's wonderful to see when gymnasts and figure skaters do have positive, enriching experiences in their sports. However, this is the exact reason that it is so important for us to be aware of the inclinations within each sport that can produce devastatingly negative experiences, so that we can improve these conditions to produce positive experiences for more athletes. I know of many, many skaters who have suffered physical and psychological damage - eating disorders, low self-esteem, self mutilation, etc. - when their love and dedication to the sport was abused (probably unintentionally or unknowingly) by various influences in the figure skating world. It is helpful for all of us who love figure skating and/or gymnastics to face our sport's weaknesses and use criticism constructively. Problems come bearing solutions; the first step is to identify the problems. Ryan does an excellent job of this in this book.
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By A Customer on February 11, 2002
Format: Paperback
I've been reading all the reviews for this book and am struck by the number of people who say that the book criticises the whole sport of gymnastics and how they/their child have had positive experiences. READ THE BOOK PROPERLY! The author clearly states that gymnastics and figure skating can be rewarding and beneficial for children, and that her book is only focusing on the pressures of gymnastics and skating at an elite/olympic level. Also, yes, eating disorders are not restricted to just gymnasts and skaters, but research has clearly proven that the percentage of gymnasts and skaters suffering from an eating disorder is far, far above the average rate. The atrocities outlined in this book unfortunately do happen and burying our heads in the sand is only going to ensure that they continue to happen.
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Format: Paperback
This is a well documented expose of the extremes necessary for Olympic Gold. It should be required reading for figure skaters and gymnasts who pursue this dream. Also for anyone who would be a coach.

Without a coach who recognizes the limits of an athlete's body, she will get hurt, both physically and mentally. The necessity of a coach to push a hopefully Olympian past her limits exists, but apparently the norm in the industry is to push until athletes are used up, burned out, and broken subservient shells.

The one thing I took away from reading this book is that coaches push little girls so hard because their 'career' is essentially ended by puberty. This chews up and screws up potential (and real) superstars.

Documented studies show that more than 4 hours a day of training is counterproductive, but also that the more training an athlete does in his or her lifetime, the better their performance is. Coaches use the latter to justify a ruinous regimen that ends often in injuries for Olympic hopefuls.

If your child has natural talent, the best thing for her is to shoot for a full college scholarship with a healthy diet and no more than 4 hours a day of intensive training and exercise. With bright talent, the full college ride is a sure thing, but the elusive Olympic endorsement is pie in the sky. This book is full of examples of shattered Olympic hopefuls, but has a counterexample of girl with careful parents who turned their child's potential Olympic talent into free college, worth a couple hundred thousand dollars these days.

I have no ties to industry except watching the Olympics on TV, and I learned a lot from reading this book. Recommended.
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