North Korea gymnasts' appeal fails

3/15/2011 - Olympic Sports

LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- North Korea's gymnasts are still barred from the 2012 London Olympics as punishment for age falsification, despite the country's reform efforts.

North Korea asked the International Gymnastics Federation for leniency last month after firing the outgoing president of its gymnastics association, its international director and her secretary, and banning them from gymnastics, according to a statement Tuesday from the FIG.

North Korea also approved an identification and registration process for its gymnasts.

But FIG president Bruno Grandi said North Korea had failed to appeal in time, and he wouldn't interfere with the governing body's disciplinary procedures.

North Korea was given 21 days to appeal after the FIG issued a two-year ban from international competition in November, its second punishment for age falsification.

The FIG imposed the current sanction, which lasts until Oct. 5, 2012, after finding that Hong Su Jong listed three birth dates (1989, 1985 and 1986) in registering for international competitions from 2003 until this year, including the 2004 Athens Olympics.

North Korea banned Hong for life and ordered her to return all medals and titles "as the result of grave negligence and damage caused to the Association's reputation," according to the FIG release.

The FIG began investigating Hong after she entered last month's worlds using the third different birth date of her career -- 1989. She won the silver medal on vault at the 2007 worlds listing 1986 as her birth year.

She competed in Athens using a birth year of 1985, which, if she was born in 1989, would have made her 14 or 15 -- too young to compete. Gymnasts must turn at least 16 in the calendar year of an Olympics to be eligible.

North Korea was banned from the 1993 world championships after the FIG discovered that Kim Gwang Suk, the 1991 gold medalist on uneven bars, was listed as being 15 years old for three years in a row.

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 minimum age has been 16 since 1997, and the FIG now requires gymnasts competing at most international events to have a license proving their age for their entire career.