Chinese wait as gymnastics officials continue probe

Updated: August 23, 2008, 12:48 PM ET
Associated Press

BEIJING -- The competition long over and with the Olympics about to end, China's gold medal women's gymnastics team was still awaiting one final ruling from the judges.

Officials from the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) pored over documents Saturday in hopes of putting to rest, once and for all, persistent questions about the ages of all but one member of the six-person team.

Chinese gymnastics officials handed over passports, ID cards and family residence permits after FIG -- at the request of the International Olympic Committee -- asked for additional documentation on He Kexin, Yang Yilin, Jiang Yuyuan, Deng Linlin and Li Shanshan.

"All information is in Chinese and the [federation] is making as thorough analysis as possible of the papers," the FIG said in a statement. "This process may take some time, but in due course, the FIG will make a full report of our findings to the International Olympic Committee."

There is no deadline for the investigation.

The Chinese have insisted the entire team is old enough to compete. Gymnasts have to turn 16 during the Olympic year to be eligible. Some media reports and online documents have suggested they could be as young as 14.

If evidence of cheating is found, four of China's six medals could be affected. In addition to the team gold, He won gold on uneven bars and Yang got bronze medals on uneven bars and the all-around.

He was a last-minute no-show at a concert Saturday night with other Chinese gold medalists, and no explanation was given. Cheng Fei, the only team member whose age hasn't been questioned, was there, but did not do interviews.

Earlier this month, the AP found registration lists previously posted on the Web site 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, her birthday has changed to Aug. 26, 1992.

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

Until it directed gymnastics official to look into the age allegations one last time, the IOC had said it checked the girls' passports and deemed them valid. The FIG has said repeatedly that a passport is "accepted proof of a gymnast's eligibility."

But the controversy never quite went away, with new reports of age discrepancies surfacing every few days. Neither the FIG nor IOC has said what prompted the IOC to ask the federation to investigate, especially since competition was already over, but both said it wanted the matter resolved quickly.

The IOC has been quick to stress that all of the documentation so far supports China's insistence that the girls are the proper age, and indicated it did not expect that to change.


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press