BEIJING (Reuters) – From the palm-fringed streets of a Colombian town to the Chinese hinterland, one common concern unites the parents of Olympic weightlifters: will the sport leave our children short and squat?

While shorter-than-average men and women abound in the lower body weight categories of the sport because their physique is an advantage in competition, experts say there is no medical evidence that lifting 200-kg barbells will somehow compress you.

Try telling that to the parents of Colombia’s Diego Salazar, who won the Olympic silver in the 62 kg class on Monday, or Chinese gold medallist Liao Hui, who won the gold in the 69 kg class on Tuesday.

“My family was adamantly opposed to my becoming a weightlifter,” Liao told reporters after his triumph. “They had this traditional idea that weightlifting makes you short and squat.”

Salazar’s mother, Rosalba Quintero, used to have the same worries.

When her picturesque hometown of Tulua near the Pacific coast erupted with cheers, party music and honking horns after Salazar’s medal win, Quintero told reporters that her son initially kept his passion for weightlifting a secret. He feared her disapproval.

“I told him that this sport was leaving him short, but he carried on,” Quintero was quoted as saying.

In the lower weight classes, short and sturdy is obviously better than long and lean, and most of the Olympic favourites in those categories measure 1.50-1.60 metres. Long arms and legs would only add extra kilos to the total body weight, without helping the athlete lift additional kilos on the barbell.

Andrew Charniga, an official from the international weightlifting federation, said rumours that weightlifting would hinder growth started in the 1970s, when countries such as Russia began recruiting lifters at a very young age.

“It’s not true,” he told Reuters. “It doesn’t affect your bone growth, it doesn’t close your growth plates.”

Mothers of weightlifters can take heart at the fact that there are plenty of towering athletes in the higher weight classes — super-heavyweight Ukrainian Ihor Shymechko, who competes at the Olympics next Tuesday, stands tall at 1.90 metres.

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