By Liz Clarke and Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, August 22, 2008
BEIJING, Aug. 22 -- The International Olympic Committee has asked the governing body for gymnastics to reexamine the issue of whether gymnast He Kexin was underage when she helped the Chinese women's team to the gold medal and won the individual gold on the uneven bars.
The IOC emphasized that it is not launching a formal investigation, but rather is seeking clarification from the International Federation of Gymnastics (FIG) and the Chinese gymnastics federation about continuing allegations that He was too young to compete. The IOC's decision was first reported by the Times of London.
"You shouldn't regard this as some kind of formal investigation," IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies said at a news conference Friday morning. "Simply there have been questions on the table and discrepancies alluded to. . . . The IOC simply wants to do due diligence and work with the international federation to 100 percent clarify this situation and put it to rest."
FIG has consistently refused to investigate the matter, arguing that passport information supplied by China or any other country is sufficient.
André Gueisbuhler, secretary general of the FIG, told the Associated Press that the federation would release a statement later Friday.
"For the time being, there is nothing I can add," Gueisbuhler said.
Chinese officials have insisted that He is 16, although news organizations have cited documents from her juniors career that state otherwise and suggest that she is 14, which would be a violation of the rules for Olympic competition. A gymnast must be 16 during the calendar year in which the Olympics are held.
"These documents already have been clarified . . . " said Wang Wei, a spokesman for the Beijing Organizing Committee. "The eligibility of the athletes has already been investigated and cleared by the international federation."
IOC Sports Director Christophe Dubi said the organization met with the Chinese gymnastics federation before the Games.
"The international federation is asking again the national federation to produce evidence for eligibility but so far everything received has demonstrated no problem for the eligibility of these competitors," he said.
Chinese Coach Lu Shanzhen told the Associated Press the Chinese federation gave the FIG new documents on Thursday to try to remove the doubts about He's age, including an old passport, a residency card and her current ID card. Lu said all these documents were issued by various departments of the Chinese government.
He and American Nastia Liukin, 18, earned the same score for their uneven bar routines, but He was awarded the gold medal under a tiebreaker formula. The IOC would have the power to strip He of her medals if she was found to have competed in violation of the rules.
"USA Gymnastics has always believed this issue needed to be addressed by the FIG and IOC," Steve Penny, president of USA Gymnastics, said in a statement released Friday morning. "An investigation would help bring closure to the issue and remove any cloud of speculation from this competition."
He was asked about her age again on Monday after winning the uneven bars title.
"I was born in 1992 and I'm 16 years old now," He said. "The FIG has proved that. If I'm under 16, I couldn't have been competing here."
Questions about the ages of He and two of her teammates have persisted. Online records -- some unearthed by hackers -- and media reports suggest three Chinese gymnasts -- He, Jiang Yuyuan and Yang Yilin -- may be as young as 14.
Earlier this month, the Associated Press 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.
Yang won bronze medals in the all-around and uneven bars.
If the Chinese were to lose the medals won by He and Yang, Liukin would move up to gold in the uneven bars. Beth Tweddle of Britain, who was fourth, would earn silver and Anastasiia Koval of Ukraine would advance from fifth place to a bronze medal.
In the all-around, Ksenia Semenova of Russia was fourth and would move up to bronze if Yang was stripped of her medal.
Yang, He and Jiang were part of China's team gold medal. The United States won silver and Romania bronze. Russia was fourth.
U.S. women's team coordinator Martha Karolyi remarked after the team competition that one of the Chinese girls was missing a tooth, a thinly veiled suggestion that she might have lost a baby tooth. Her husband, NBC commentator Bela Karolyi, has been even less subtle in his accusations against the Chinese team.