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China's gymnasts cleared in probe

Sport's governing body finds no violation of age rules during the Beijing Olympics.

October 02, 2008|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) said its investigation into the ages of the Chinese gymnasts who won the women's team gold medal at the Beijing Olympics showed that there was no attempt to falsify ages.

However, FIG is continuing to investigate the possible violation of its age rules by the Chinese women's team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

One gymnast, Yang Yun, two-time bronze medalist on that team, was quoted in a state-run CCTV interview as saying she was only 14 during those Games. FIG rules are that a gymnast must turn 16 during an Olympic year.

Another gymnast from that 2000 team, Dong Fangxiao, also may have provided documents that appeared to suggest she was only 14 in 2000, according to Andre Gueisbuhler, FIG's secretary-general. Gueisbuhler also said Dong had at one time been doing her own blog, in which she suggested she was 14 in Sydney. China won the team bronze in 2000.

A week before the Beijing Games began, several U.S. news organizations, among them The Times, discovered documents -- including registration lists from regional competitions -- that showed varying birth dates for three team members: He Kexin, Yang Yilin and Jiang Yuyuan.

At the Beijing Games, He won the uneven bars gold medal over U.S. all-around gold medalist Nastia Liukin. He and Liukin posted the same score, but Liukin lost the gold in a tiebreaking procedure.

Liukin issued a statement Wednesday saying she was happy He's age was checked.

"My family and I are pleased with the level of scrutiny the FIG and IOC undertook with this very serious issue," Liukin said. "All anyone in the gymnastics and Olympic communities wanted was closure, which we now have."

A day before the Olympics, both FIG and International Olympic Committee officials said that because the Chinese sports federation provided passports showing the ages of the three girls in question as being 16, the issue was closed.

But two days after the Olympic gymnastics competition ended, FIG and IOC officials, citing "new" evidence, said an investigation would be made into the documentation Chinese officials had provided.

Gueisbuhler said Chinese officials have turned over birth certificates, registration cards, passports and school records. However, there was not enough evidence to clear Yang and Dong from the 2000 team.

This hasn't been the first time age was a question. In 1993, when gymnasts were required to be at least 15, North Korea was sanctioned after one of its gymnasts, world championship uneven bars gold medalist Kim Gwang Suk, was listed as 15 for three straight years. In 2002, Romanian officials admitted that age falsification had been part of their program and cited former medalists Gina Gogean and Alexandra Marinescu as being under age.

During the Olympics, U.S. team coordinator Martha Karolyi said the age rule should be eliminated.

"That's the only way to get a fair playing field," Karolyi said.

Former Olympian Dominique Dawes said she thought it was a major step that the FIG even conducted an investigation. "It meant they paid attention," Dawes said.

"There needs to be a dialogue on this. If you have the talent, heart and mental toughness at whatever age, I don't think you should prohibit competition based only on age."


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