Athletes Struggle to Meet Rigorous Weight Requirements


WEIGHING IN: Athletes struggle with the demands of their respective sports, often checking their weight to maintain eligibility. | Photo by Ashley Bonett '10

Joy Eisenberg ’10
Sports Editor

WEIGHING IN: Athletes struggle with the demands of their respective sports, often checking their weight to maintain eligibility. | Photo by Ashley Bonett '10

Rachel Upton ’10, an avid rower for the past five years, remembers a time when she saw a coach cut off a lightweight rower’s ponytail because she was almost a half–pound over the weight category’s maximum. “It was two hours before the race and she had to be weighed in for finals at nationals,” Upton said. “Instead of having her do a sweat run, the coach just cut off her ponytail.”

Upton’s story is just one example of the extremes athletes and sports teams will go to when competing.

Weight categories have been employed for centuries as a means of balancing competition in an array of various sports. However, only in the past couple of decades have the methods used by the athletes for meeting these weight–oriented goals been evaluated.

In sports where the size and physical strength of the athletes are known to be vital to an athlete’s success, the physically superior combatants are more likely to have an advantage over the smaller competitors. Therefore, weight categories have become essential to competition in sports.

Such pressure to be a certain size has led some athletes to do whatever it takes to make that category, even if it means going to the extremes or putting their health in jeopardy. Techniques such as sweating, diuretics, fluid and food restrictions the day before a meet are shared among athletes in the world of competition.

In 1997, the tragic deaths of three wrestlers made news and initiated a much-needed discussion on the techniques used by athletes to “make weight.” One of the wrestlers, Jeff Reese, attempted to qualify for a lower weight-class by working out in a rubber suit in severe temperatures, and consequently died due to kidney and heart failure.

Today’s athletes commonly use similar methods.

“During my sophomore year, we brought a lightweight boat to Nationals. One girl on the team was one pound over the limit and was forced to go on sweat runs… in order to lose some water weight in time,” Upton said.

Upton explained that in both men’s and women’s rowing there are two categories: lightweight and open-weight, where “open-weight is the nicer term for heavyweight,” Upton said.

“Every person in the race has to be weighed in two hours before the race. If a person doesn’t make it [the weight category], they can’t compete,” Upton said.

In sports where there are weight divisions, such as rowing, wrestling, and gymnastics, it is important to compete in the field that is healthiest for the combatant. However, athletes and coaches are trying to squeeze themselves or others in categories where they don’t belong, breaking the so-called system of equality.

Henry Betar ’12, a member of the Staples wrestling team, has seen similar methods of maneuvering around the regulations.

“A lot of people try to go up or down [in weight] so they can be at the top of the class,” Betar said.

In high school wrestling, there are 14 weight classes set by the National Federation of State High School Associations. The classes range from 103 pounds to the heavyweight category of up to 285 pounds.

“If you were wrestling without a weight class system it would be unfair and probably dangerous,” Betar said.

Although many athletes find themselves with different eating habits during the sport’s season, such as eating less or more in order to make the necessary weight, neither Upton nor Betar has expressed experience in needing to change their ways in order to meet the scale.

“I really don’t have to watch what I eat too much,” Betar said. “The practices we have are really good in keeping us fit.” Upton agrees, “I’m a vegetarian so I usually eat pretty healthy, [and] we are monitored by our coaches to keep us on track. It’s really strict.”

Despite the health problems weight categories implement, there are some benefits.

“For the sport itself there is definitely a benefit [to weight categories]. Rowing is weight based, where the more mass someone has the better. The categories allow smaller girls to compete,” Upton said.