Underage Chinese Gymnasts Probe Expands

Chinese gymnast He Kexin, center, is seen with teammates at a news conference at the Samsung Pavilion at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in Beijing, Friday, Aug. 22, 2008. AP Photo/Rob Carr

The investigation into the ages of China's gold-medal women's gymnastics team has been expanded to include members of the 2000 team that won a bronze in Sydney, the Associated Press has learned.

International gymnastics officials are examining whether Yang Yun and Dong Fangxiao, in particular, were old enough to compete at the Sydney Olympics. Gymnasts must turn 16 during the Olympic year.

"If we had a look at all the articles that came before, during and after the games, there were always rumors about the ages of China's athletes in Sydney," Andre Gueisbuhler, secretary general of the International Gymnastics Federation, told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

"We did not have another choice," he said. "If we want to remain credible, then we have to look into things."

Yang's birthdate is listed as Dec. 2, 1984, which would have made her eligible for Sydney because she would turn 16 during 2000. But Yang, who also won a bronze medal on uneven bars, said in a June 2007 interview that aired on state broadcaster China Central Television that she was 14 at the Olympics.

Dong's birthdate is listed as Jan. 20, 1983, making her 17 at the time of the Sydney Games. Her blog, however, includes a reference to being born in 1985.

No other Chinese teams are being looked at, Gueisbuhler said.

A month after the Beijing Games ended, the investigation into the eligibility of the Chinese gymnasts continues, and Gueisbuhler said there is no timetable for when a report will be handed over to the International Olympic Committee.

"It's a work in progress," said Emmanuelle Moreau, an IOC spokeswoman. "Until the work has been completed, there is nothing we can say."

Questions about the ages of the Chinese gymnasts at the 2008 Summer Olympics had swirled for months before the games, with media reports and online records suggesting several of the gymnasts on the six-woman squad might be as young as 14. But Chinese officials insisted - repeatedly and heatedly - that all gymnasts were old enough, and they had not cheated their way to their first Olympic team gold.

The FIG and IOC thought the matter was settled before the games began, when the IOC said it had checked the girls' passports and deemed them valid. But the controversy persisted, and the FIG, at the IOC's urging, asked China three days before the games ended to provide more information on the ages of five of the six team members: He Kexin, Yang Yilin, Jiang Yuyuan, Deng Linlin and Li Shanshan.

China turned over birth certificates, passports, ID cards and family residence permits, and the IOC initially indicated that all appeared to be in order.

If evidence of cheating is found, it could affect as many as four of the six medals the Chinese women won in Beijing. In addition to the team gold, He won gold on uneven bars and Yang got bronze medals on bars and in the all-around.

Age falsification has been a problem in gymnastics since the 1980s, after the minimum age was raised from 14 to 15 to protect young athletes from serious injuries. The minimum age was raised to its current 16 in 1997.

Younger gymnasts are considered to have an advantage because they are more flexible and are likely to have an easier time doing the tough skills the sport requires. They also aren't as likely to have a history of injuries or fear of failure.
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