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BEIJING 2008

Again, an age-old inquiry

August 16, 2008|John Cherwa | Orlando Sentinel

The controversy of the Summer Games that just won't go away seems to have a life span longer than the age of the competitors. OK, exaggeration by at least a couple of years. But there is no doubt there are a lot of people who believe the Chinese aren't being straight on the ages of their competitors. If it were true, and there are enough documents to give it some credibility, it wouldn't be the first time. Gymnastics has a rich history of age fixing. Now might be a good time to balance, vault, flip and dance down memory lane.

THE CONTROVERSY

Quite simple. Documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times and other news organizations say He Kexin and Jiang Yuyuan are too young to be in the Olympics. Much like a Florida recount, their age is a rolling number. He's birthday has gone from Jan. 1, 1994, to Oct. 1, 1993. Jiang's birthday has switched from Jan. 1, 1992, to Nov. 1, 1991. International gymnastics rules say you must turn 16 during an Olympic year to participate. The FIG (International Gymnastics Federation) questioned the Chinese, who sent them passports that verified their older ages. The FIG is happy. The Chinese are happy. Bela Karolyi has something to talk about.

ARE WE JUST BEING

UGLY AMERICANS?

Actually, many of the Chinese believe the same thing. In late 2007, the Beijing Evening News said: "To make up for the disadvantages of the women's team on uneven bars, the 13-year-old young athlete He Kexin might be the secret weapon for the Olympic game." Blog posters constantly talk about the underage athletes, until they are occasionally taken down.

THE HISTORY

Olga Mostepanova: Competing in the 1983 and 1985 world championships, this Soviet-bloc athlete at various times was reported to be born in 1968, 1969 and 1970 (which is what she admitted to). Now: She is married with five kids.

Daniela Silivas: A Romanian who competed in the 1988 Olympics started at the world championships when she was 13. She later admitted her passport birth date was changed from 1972 to 1970. Now: A gymnastics coach near Atlanta.

Gina Gogean: This Romanian, who participated in the 1992 Olympics, had a passport that said 1977 and a birth certificate that said 1978. Now: A gymnastics judge.

Alexandra Marinescu: She competed for Romania in the 1996 Olympics. She had her passport altered from 1982 to 1981. Now: Works as a DJ.

Yang Yun: This Chinese athlete competed in the 2000 Olympics and said she was 15 years, 9 months. She later admitted she was really 14.

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Sources: Los Angeles Times,

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BBC and International Herald Tribune

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