Friday, August 22, 2008

Underage Olympians?

The biggest news out of the Olympics right now is not Phelps' incredible 8 medal win, or Dara Torres class in helping out a Swedish swimmer with a costume malfunction,
but rather the possibility that China has as many as 3 underage gymnasts on their team. The controversy focuses mainly on He Kexin who won the team gold and an individual gold in uneven parallel bars. David Flumenbaum of The Huffington Post found several online entries showing that He was only 14. The minimum age requirement for the Olympics is 16. After these sites were publicised, they mysteriously were changed or disappeared altogether.

It's a shame, really. She's a cute kid and very talented, but if she is underage, she doesn't deserve the medals. The 16 year old age requirement for Olympic gymnasts is there for a couple of reasons: to protect younger gymnasts health and safety, and to level the playing field. The sport is much easier the smaller and younger you are. The IOC has said they have found no proof that the girls are underage. No doubt, as their ID is provided by the Chinese government.

The arguments on both sides are constant. Asians are naturally smaller than Europeans and Americans. The Japanese gymnasts were quite small as well.
The girls' passports, which are the one ID used to determine eligibility by the IOC show that they are 16. And yet, one of the girls seems to be missing a baby tooth, which would certainly make her younger than 16. Several of their ages were listed in 2005, 2006 and 2007 records as being born in 1992 or 1993.

I doubt the truth will come out any time soon, although in the past similar disparities have been uncovered. North Korea had listed one gymnast as 15 for three years in a row. Romania has admitted falsifying ages in the past. And Yang Yun who won 2 bronze medals for China in the 2000 games in Sydney has admitted to only being 14 at the time. The shame is in how it makes all of these athletes look. The Chinese with the appearance of cheating and the USA crying sour grapes. I don't believe that was what was meant for these kids when they decided to follow their passion for this sport. Either way, the spirit of these games has been severely compromised.

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