IOC: Chinese gymnasts eligible

No proof to claims of underage athletes

By Nancy Armour
Associated Press / August 22, 2008
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BEIJING - Despite persistent questions about the ages of several members of the Chinese women's gymnastics team that won the gold medal, the International Olympic Committee said today there is still no proof anyone cheated and believes the controversy will be "put to rest."

The IOC asked the International Gymnastics Federation to investigate "what have been a number of questions and apparent discrepancies," spokeswoman Giselle Davies said. But all of the information the Chinese gymnastics federation has presented so far supports its insistence that its athletes were old enough to compete.

"We believe the matter will be put to rest and there's no question . . . on the eligibility," Davies said. "The information we have received seems satisfactory in terms of the correct documentation - including birth certificates."

If the FIG had found evidence that the gymnasts were underage, it could have affected four of China's six medals. In addition to the team gold and He Kexin's gold on bars, Yang Yilin won bronze medals in the all-around and uneven bars.

Chinese coach Lu Shanzhen told the Associated Press they gave the FIG new documents yesterday to try to remove any doubts about He's age, including an old passport, residency card, and her current ID card.

Lu said all the documents were issued by various departments of the Chinese government, and that he had nothing more to put forth as evidence.

"If these valid documents are not enough to clarify this problem, then what will you believe?" an indignant Lu said.

"It's not just me," the coach added. "The parents of our athletes are all very indignant. They have faced groundless suspicion. Why aren't they believed? Why are their children suspected? Their parents are very angry."

The FIG has said repeatedly that a passport is the "accepted proof of a gymnast's eligibility," and that China's gymnasts have presented ones that show they are age eligible. The IOC also checked the girls' passports and deemed them valid before the Olympics began.

Andre Gueisbuhler, secretary general of the FIG, said the federation would release a statement later today.

"For the time being, there is nothing I can add," Gueisbuhler said.

A gymnast must be 16 in an Olympic year to compete. But questions about the ages of at least three of the athletes have persisted. Online records and media reports suggest three Chinese gymnasts - He, Yang, and Jiang Yuyuan - might be as young as 14.

The IOC did not give details on what new information prompted it to act now, three days after the gymnastics competition ended. "With some questions still remaining, we asked the federation to take a closer look," Davies said.

Media reports include a Nov. 3 story by the Chinese government's news agency, Xinhua, that suggest He is only 14.

Earlier this month, the AP found registration lists previously posted on the website of the General Administration of Sport of China that showed both He and Yang were too young to compete.

He was born Jan. 1, 1994, according to the 2005, 2006, and 2007 registration lists. Yang was born Aug. 26, 1993, according to the 2004, 2005, and 2006 registration lists. In the 2007 registration list, however, Yang's birthday was changed to Aug. 26, 1992.

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.

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