BEIJING - He Kexin marched into the news conference for gold-medal winners fashionably late last night. Already on the podium were still rings winner Chen Yibing and his coach, men's vault winner Leszek Blanik and his coach, and women's trampoline winner He Wenna and her coach.
Kexin pulled up a chair. The 16-year-old from China had been in doping control, being tested after she won the uneven parallel bars gold medal by virtue of a tiebreaking procedure over Nastia Liukin of Parker, Texas.
Liukin, 18, now has four medals - gold in the individual all-around, two silvers and a bronze - and she will go for a fifth medal tonight on the balance beam, where she is the defending world champion.
Both He and Liukin received a score of 16.725, but He was the winner because she received a lower average deduction (0.933) than Liukin (0.966). China's Yang Yilin won the bronze medal with a score of 16.650.
Though there is evidence that He is only 14 - articles published by Chinese news media in November quoted a Chinese sports federation official as calling Kexin a 13-year-old 2012 Olympic hopeful - she is now a double gold medal winner and an unflappable competitor on and off the arena floor.
When He arrived at her news conference, she was asked three times about the discrepancies in her reported age.
"My explanation is that my real age is 16," she said. "I was born in 1992." She said she did not feel the need to correct the reports when she read news accounts last fall that she was 13.
"This is not important," she said. "I don't care what others say. I'm only focused on my gymnastics. I am 16; that's why I'm here. If I wouldn't be, I couldn't be here. That is all."
Yang has also been part of the age controversy, with her birth date appearing as 1994 on some provincial registration lists. Olympic gymnasts must be at least 16 or turn 16 the year of the competition.
But it was the numbers on the scoreboard that were confusing yesterday.
The tiebreaking formula is so convoluted that former U.S. coach Bela Karolyi did not understand how it worked and even the partisan Chinese crowd at the National Indoor Stadium seemed subdued in its reaction to He's receiving the gold medal on the podium.
Until after the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, double or even triple medals were awarded if there were tie scores. Bruno Grandi, president of the international gymnastics federation, FIG, wishes that were still the case. "If you have the same score," he said, "you should get the same medal."
But Grandi said that after 1996, the International Olympic Committee said judged sports needed a tiebreaker procedure, and last night it was used to decide two gold medals. In the men's vault, Poland's Blanik won gold over France's Thomas Bouhail after both had an average of 16.537 for their two vaults.
At competitions other than the Olympics, multiple medals are awarded if scores are tied.
He performed first on the uneven bars and flew through her routine with high speed. She grabbed the bar resolutely on every release move but did have a small crossover step on her landing.
Liukin went second. She had a slow moment on a move from the high bar to the low bar, but for the first time since she started doing this high-difficulty routine, Liukin punctuated the finish with a perfect double-twisting landing.
Her score flashed on the board, 16.725, the same as He. But He had a (1) in front of her name and Liukin had a (2). The tiebreaking procedure is programmed into the scoreboard computer.
Liukin said she assumed that she and He were tied. It wasn't until the competition was over that U.S. team coordinator Martha Karolyi explained the situation.
"I just didn't know what was happening," Liukin said.
She also said her routine wasn't perfect.
"It wasn't my best," Liukin said. "I definitely had some mistakes."
Liukin's father and coach, Valeri Liukin, has four Olympic medals, the same as his daughter.
"But I have two golds," he said with a wink.
His daughter can beat him today if she earns a medal in the balance beam.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Here is how He Kexin of China and Olympic all-around champion Nastia Liukin of the United States finished with the same score on the uneven bars but won different medals:
Where it starts: Liukin and He each scored a 16.725. They had identical 7.7 start values (the measure of a routine's difficulty) and 9.025 execution scores. The execution mark is based on the perfect 10.0 scale, and is arrived at by tossing out the highest and lowest of the six judges' marks and averaging the remaining four.
The first tie-break: The four deductions that counted are added together and averaged. He and Liukin were still tied.
The second tie-break: The three lowest deductions are added and averaged. He had .933 in deductions and Liukin had .966, meaning that He had .033 less in deductions and was declared the winner.