The New York Times released this article. This is the most information received thus far about the Chinese Age Debate. Very interesting stuff, check it out….
Issues of Age Seem to Follow Chinese Gymnasts
By JERÉ LONGMAN and JULIET MACUR
Published: July 27, 2008
China named its Olympic women’s gymnastics team on Friday, and the inclusion of at least two athletes has further raised questions, widespread in the sport, about whether the host nation for the Beijing Games is using under-age performers.
Chinese officials responded immediately, providing The New York Times with copies of passports indicating that both athletes in question — He Kexin, a gold-medal favorite in the uneven parallel bars, and Jiang Yuyuan — are 16, the minimum age for Olympic eligibility.
Officials with the International Gymnastics Federation said that questions about He’s age had been raised by Chinese news media reports, USA Gymnastics and fans of the sport, but that Chinese authorities presented passport information to show that He is 16.
Online records listing Chinese gymnasts and their ages that were posted on official Web sites in China, along with ages given in the official Chinese news media, however, seem to contradict the passport information, indicating that He and Jiang may be as young as 14 — two years below the Olympic limit.
Mary Lou Retton, the Olympic all-around gymnastics champion at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, recently watched a competition video of He and other Chinese gymnasts on the uneven bars.
“The girls are so little, so young,” Retton said. Speaking of He, Retton rolled her eyes and laughed, saying, “They said she was 16, but I don’t know.”
An advantage for younger gymnasts is that they are lighter and, often, more fearless when they perform difficult maneuvers, said Nellie Kim, a five-time Olympic gold medalist for the former Soviet Union who is now the president of the women’s technical committee for the Swiss-based International Gymnastics Federation.
“It’s easier to do tricks,” Kim said. “And psychologically, I think they worry less.”
The women’s gymnastics competition at the Beijing Games, which begin Aug. 8, is expected to be a dramatic battle for the team gold medal between the United States and China. At the 2007 world championships, the Americans prevailed by 95-hundredths of a point.
On the uneven bars, He and Nastia Liukin of the United States are expected to challenge for an individual gold medal.
In Chinese newspaper profiles this year, He was listed as 14, too young for the Beijing Games.
The Times found two online records of official registration lists of Chinese gymnasts that list He’s birthday as Jan. 1, 1994, which would make her 14. A 2007 national registry of Chinese gymnasts — now blocked in China but viewable through Google cache — shows He’s age as “1994.1.1.”
Another registration list that is unblocked, dated Jan. 27, 2006, and regarding an “intercity” competition in Chengdu, China, also lists He’s birthday as Jan. 1, 1994. That date differs by two years from the birth date of Jan. 1, 1992, listed on He’s passport, which was issued Feb. 14, 2008.
There has been considerable talk about the ages of Chinese gymnasts on Web sites devoted to the sport. And there has been frequent editing of He’s Wikipedia entry, although it could not be determined by whom. One paragraph that discusses the controversy of her age kept disappearing and reappearing on He’s entry. As of Friday, a different version of the paragraph had been restored to the page.
The other gymnast, Jiang, is listed on her passport — issued March 2, 2006 — as having been born on Nov. 1, 1991, which would make her 17 in November and thus eligible to compete at the Beijing Games.
A different birth date, indicating Jiang is not yet 15, appears on a list of junior competitors from the Zhejiang Province sports administration. The list of athletes includes national identification card numbers into which birth dates are embedded. Jiang’s national card number as it appears on this list shows her birth date as Oct. 1, 1993, which indicates that she will turn 15 in the fall, and would thus be ineligible to compete in the Beijing Games.
Zhang Hongliang, an official with the Chinese gymnastics federation, said Friday that perhaps Chinese reporters and provincial sports authorities made mistakes in listing He’s and Jiang’s birth dates differently from the dates given on their passports.
“The two athletes have attended international sports competitions before, and I’m sure the information is correct,” Zhang said of the athletes’ passports.
The International Gymnastics Federation said it had contacted Chinese officials in May about the gymnasts’ ages after receiving inquiries from fans and reading newspaper accounts, including one in The China Daily, the country’s official English-language paper, stating that He was 14.
“We heard these rumors, and we immediately wrote to the Chinese gymnastics federation” about He, said André Gueisbuhler, the secretary general of the international federation. “They immediately sent a copy of the passport, showing the age, and everything is O.K. That’s all we can check.”
If someone provided proof that any gymnast was under age, or filed a formal complaint, Gueisbuhler said, he would be “quite happy to check and ask again.”
“As long as we have no official complaint, there is no reason to act, if we get a passport that obviously is in order,” he said.
Steve Penny, the president of USA Gymnastics, said he had asked Kim of the international federation about He’s age after receiving e-mail messages referring to newspaper accounts and comments made on blogs and in Internet chat rooms that said she was 14. But Penny said he was not really concerned.
“If they have valid passports, bring ’em on,” Penny said. “If they say they’re good, we’re going to beat them.
“You can’t worry about it. You do your job, and you expect other people are doing theirs and you expect it’s a fair field of play.”
Privately, some gymnastics officials said that even if other countries had real concerns about the Chinese, they might be reluctant to make accusations for fear of reprisals by judges at the Beijing Games.
If it is true that under-age gymnasts are competing, Kim of the international federation said: “It’s a bad thing. It should not be acceptable.”
Yang Yun of China won individual and team bronze medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and later said in an interview on state-run television that she had been 14 at the time of those Games. A Hunan Province sports administration report also said later that she had been 14 when she competed in Sydney.
Bela Karolyi, who coached Retton of the United States and Nadia Comaneci of Romania to their Olympic gold-medal triumphs, said the problem of under-age gymnasts had been around for years. Age is an easy thing to alter in an authoritarian country, he said, because the government has such strict control of official paperwork.
He recalled Kim Gwang Suk, a North Korean gymnast who showed up at the 1991 world championships with two missing front teeth. Karolyi, who said he thought Kim must have been younger than 11 at the time, and others contended those front teeth had been baby teeth and that permanent teeth had not yet replaced them. Her coaches said she had lost them years before, during a small accident in the gym.
At the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, Kim was 4 feet 4 inches, about 65 pounds and claimed to be 17. At one point, the North Korean Gymnastics Federation listed her at 15 for three straight years; the federation was later barred from the 1993 world championships for falsifying ages.
“Oh, come on, she was just in diapers and everyone could see that, just like some of the Chinese girls are now,” Karolyi said. “If you look close, you can see they still have their baby teeth. Little tiny teeth!”
But it is not likely that anyone could prove that the Chinese gymnasts are under age, Karolyi said.
“It’s literally impossible,” he said. “The paperwork is changed just too good. In a country like that, they’re experts at it. Nothing new.”