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Ron Judd's Olympics Insider

Ron Judd, an Olympics junkie and Seattle Times columnist who has covered Olympic sports since 1997, will use this space to serve up news and opinion on the Summer and Winter Games -- also inviting you to chime in on Planet Earth's biggest get-together.

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August 14, 2008 12:15 PM

More evidence on Chinese kiddie gymnasts?

Posted by Ron Judd


It's the story that won't go away for China.

The Associated Press in Beijing reports that just nine months before the Games, the Chinese government's own official news agency, Xinhua, reported that female gymnast He Kexin -- the one who looks like she's maybe 13 -- was 13. And -- surprise! -- that information has suddenly disappeared from Xinhua's Web site.

The complete story appears below. But we're wondering if any official traction will ever be gained on this issue. If the Chinese athletes are underaged, the Chinese government clearly is complicit: They've all been issued passports showing them to be 16.

And if that's the case, only a full-scale International Olympic Committee investigation could undo what's been done on the arena floor, where China already has captured the team gold medal. Yet, even after compelling proof of the age shenanigans was printed well in advance of the competition in the New York Times and elsewhere, the IOC has sat on its doughy hands.

Oddly enough, as others have noted, the IOC seems to relish that cop role when it comes to other cheaters, such as dopers and scandalous judges. Why the great wall of silence around the age controversy? It's a rhetorical question: The Olympic movement already has proven it's willing to sell its own soul to placate the Chinese, who apparently now run the organization.

Let's face it: The only solution is the King Solomon test: Somebody is going to have to cut one of those little gymnasts in half and count the rings.

Here's the story:

BEIJING (AP) -- Just nine months before the Beijing Olympics, the Chinese government's news agency, Xinhua, reported that gymnast He Kexin was 13, which would have made her ineligible to be on the team that won a gold medal this week.

In its report Nov. 3, Xinhua identified He as one of "10 big new stars" who made a splash at China's Cities Games. It gave her age as 13 and reported that she beat Yang Yilin on the uneven bars at those games. In the final, "this little girl" pulled off a difficult release move on the bars known as the Li Na, named for another Chinese gymnast, Xinhua said in the report, which appeared on one of its Web sites, www.hb.xinhuanet.com

The Associated Press found the Xinhua report on the site Thursday morning and saved a copy of the page. Later that afternoon, the Web site was still working but the page was no longer accessible. Sports editors at the state-run news agency would not comment for publication.

If the age reported by Xinhua was correct, that would have meant He was too young to be on the Chinese team that beat the United States on Wednesday and clinched China's first women's team Olympic gold in gymnastics. He is also a favorite for gold in Monday's uneven bars final.

Yang was also on Wednesday's winning team. Questions have also been raised about her age and that of a third team member, Jiang Yuyuan.

Gymnasts have to be 16 during the Olympic year to be eligible for the games. He's birthday is listed as Jan. 1, 1992.

Chinese authorities insist that all three are old enough to compete. He herself told reporters after Wednesday's final that "my real age is 16. I don't pay any attention to what everyone says."

Zhang Hongliang, an official with China's gymnastics delegation at the games, said Thursday the differing ages which have appeared in Chinese media reports had not been checked in advance with the gymnastics federation.

"It's definitely a mistake," Zhang said of the Xinhua report, speaking in a telephone interview. "Never has any media outlet called me to check the athletes' ages."

Asked whether the federation had changed their ages to make them eligible, Zhang said: "We are a sports department. How would we have the ability to do that?"

"We already explained this very clearly. There's no need to discuss this thing again."

The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) has said repeatedly that a passport is the "accepted proof of a gymnast's eligibility," and that He and China's other gymnasts have presented ones that show they are age eligible. The IOC also checked the girls' passports and deemed them valid.

A May 23 story in the China Daily newspaper, the official English-language paper of the Chinese government, said He was 14. The story was later corrected to list her as 16.

"This is not a USAG issue," said Steve Penny, president of USA Gymnastics. "The FIG and the IOC are the proper bodies to handle this."

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www.olympic.org: The official International Olympic Committtee site, with news releases, a searchable Olympic medals database and other archival information.
www.nbcolympics.com: Olympic news site from one of the Games' primary sponsors.
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