Ages of Chinese gymnasts for '08 Games ruled OK

The Baltimore Sun

All six members of the Chinese women's gymnastics team at the Beijing Games were old enough to compete at those Olympics, officials from the International Gymnastics Federation said yesterday after a monthlong investigation into possible age falsification by the team.

Still, the federation's probe regarding underage gymnasts is to continue: Two members of China's squad from the 2000 Olympics - Dong Fangxiao and Yang Yun - are being scrutinized for possibly breaking age rules.

Officials of the International Gymnastics Federation, or FIG, are not convinced that Dong and Yang met the requirement of turning at least 16 in the Olympic year. China won bronze in the team competition at the 2000 Sydney Games.

"Regarding Beijing, we have done our job and checked documents from three different official sources, and the documents proved that the age of the Chinese gymnasts is correct," Andre Gueisbuhler, the FIG secretary general said in a telephone interview yesterday. "But we still have a big problem. At the moment, we have evidence which seems to show that some of their gymnasts were underage in Sydney."

International Olympic Committee spokeswoman Emmanuelle Moreau said IOC officials are satisfied with the FIG investigation regarding the Chinese team in Beijing.

"We consider the matter closed," Moreau said. "But still, we're encouraging them to shed more light on the matter regarding Sydney. We haven't moved into the stage of sanctions yet."

Gueisbuhler said Dong and Yang might have been 14 in Sydney. He said Dong obtained a credential for the Beijing Olympics using documents showing a birth date that would have made her 14 in 2000. Dong needed the credential to work as a national technical official for the gymnastics competition.

Yang, in an interview last year on China's state-run television, said she was underage at the 2000 Games. She won the bronze medal on the uneven bars.

"At that time, I was only 14 years old," she said in the segment that is posted on YouTube. "I thought, 'If I didn't do well this time, that there would still be a next time.' "

Gueisbuhler said the federation would continue to investigate Yang and Dong and that "the world should know that this is a moral and ethical question, and we will not take this lightly."

Questions about the ages of the Chinese women's gymnastics team arose in the weeks before the Beijing Games. The New York Times, citing official Chinese sports registries and other sources, reported that two of China's gymnasts might be underage.

The Chinese attributed those age discrepancies to misfiled paperwork. At the IOC's request, FIG launched an inquiry of the Chinese team just before the Games ended.

Age falsification has been an issue in gymnastics for years, beginning in the 1980s, when the minimum age was raised from 14 to 15. In 1997, the age was raised to 16, in part to protect the gymnasts from injuries and to prevent burnout.

In 1993, North Korea's gymnastics federation was barred from the world championships for falsifying ages. At one point, it had listed gymnast Kim Gwang Suk as 15 for three straight years.

USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny said in a statement yesterday that he applauded the efforts to investigate China's Beijing team "given the level of speculation that existed." He added that the ensuing inquiry into China's 2000 Olympic team shows the need to identify better methods to determine a gymnast's age.

Gueisbuhler said FIG officials are discussing how to proceed with the issue regarding China's 2000 team. He said they would speak to IOC officials about what sanctions or legal options, if any, would be possible.

Gueisbuhler said the punishment could range from suspension to stripping the athletes of medals.

If China would lose the team bronze medal from 2000, the next in line to receive the bronze would be the United States, which finished fourth.

"I definitely think they should be stripped of their medals because it's cheating and it's no different than an athlete being caught for doping," said Dominique Dawes, a Silver Spring gymnast on the 2000 U.S. team. "If they lost their medals, that would be a good way to scare people. Next time, China and countries like them would think twice before putting an underage gymnast on their Olympic squad."

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