In 1956 the top two Olympic female gymnasts were 35 and 29 years old. In 1968 gold medalist Vera Caslavska of Czechoslovakia was 26 years old, stood 5 feet 3 inches and weighed 121 pounds. Back then, gymnastics was truly a woman's sport....[In 1976] 14-year-old Nadia Comaneci clutched a baby doll after scoring the first perfect 10.0 in Olympic history. She was 5 feet tall and weighed 85 pounds. The decline in age among American gymnasts since Comaneci's victory is startling. In 1976 the six US Olympic gymnasts were, on average, 17 and a half years old, stood 5 feet three and a half inches and weighed 106 pounds. By the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, the average US Olympic gymnast was 16 years old, stood 4 feet 9 inches and weighed 83 pounds, a year younger, 6 inches shorter and 23 pounds lighter than her counterparts of 16 years before.
So what's driven this trend toward ever-younger athletes? (They would be ever-younger had not a ruling finally been delivered limiting competition to girls and women 16 and over.) Not the sport itself, evidently.