China 'pained over this incident'

4/29/2010 - Olympic Sports

BEIJING -- The Chinese Gymnastics Association said Thursday it is "pained" by the ruling to strip its women's team of a bronze medal from the 2000 Sydney Olympics for using an underage athlete, but respects the decision.

The International Gymnastics Federation found that Dong Fangxiao was only 14 during the 2000 Games. The International Olympic Committee then ordered China to return its team medal, which now will be awarded to the United States. Gymnasts must turn 16 during the Olympic year to be eligible.

"We are pained over this incident. We will learn a lesson and further strengthen all kinds of administrative work on athletes and resolutely prevent a similar incident from happening again," the Chinese association said in a statement carried by the official Xinhua News Agency. "The attitude and stance of the Chinese Gymnastics Association is completely the same as that of the IOC."

News that China was losing its bronze over age falsification was reported only briefly in the country's entirely state-run media. Such an incident is considered hugely embarrassing to the communist government in the sports-crazy country that puts heavy emphasis on Olympic achievement.

The Chinese statement did not say who was responsible for the apparent age falsification or whether the gymnastics association was involved.

"We are very confident of our position that this was a violation," FIG president Bruno Grandi said Thursday in Dubai. "From our point of view, this is a closed case. The IOC confirmed our findings."

Age falsification has been a problem in gymnastics since the 1980s, when the minimum age was raised from 14 to 15 to help protect still-developing athletes from serious injuries. The FIG raised the minimum age to its current 16 in 1997.

The issue drew worldwide attention in 2008, when media reports and Internet records suggested some of the girls on China's gold medal-winning Olympic team could have been as young as 14.

A FIG probe cleared the Beijing gymnasts and closed the case in October 2008, but the organization said it wasn't satisfied with "the explanations and evidence provided to date" for Dong.

The federation didn't find sufficient evidence to prove that a second Sydney gymnast, Yang Yun, was underage; instead, it gave her a warning.