An investigation has been instigated by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), into the ages of several Chinese gold-medal-winning gymnasts. In order to confirm that five gymnasts were old enough to compete, China has been asked to hand over extra documents.
One document on the internet suggests that gold medal winner He Kexin is only 14 years old, not 16 as the rules require
Although the allegations have been strenuously denied by Chinese officials, the home nation’s image would be tarnish if it is true.
Rumours have been spreading for several months, concerning the ages of a number of Chinese gymnasts.
The International Gymnastics Federation confirmed it was looking into the cases of Miss He, Yang Yilin, Jiang Yuyuan, Li Shanshan and Deng Linlin, all five awarded gold medals at this Olympics, as part of the Chinese female squad that won the women’s team event.
In the internet document, dated last year, seen by the BBC and apparently coming from the website of China’s General Administration of Sport, China’s gymnasts are listed. He Kexin’s birthday is recorded as 1 January, 1994, which would mean she is 14.
Although on the Beijing games official website, Miss He’s birthday is given as 1 January, 1992, that would mean she is 16.
The IOC has already investigated the age issue twice : in the spring of this year and just before the games began.
On Friday, Giselle Davies, IOC spokeswoman said “we have asked the gymnastics federation to look into what have been quite a number of questions and apparent discrepancies on this case”.
While Ms Davies said she was confident that the gymnasts did meet Olympic age requirements, China was even more confident. An investigation had already been held in the matter, said Wang Wei, executive vice-president of the Beijing organising committee.
At a press conference she said : “If they had not been cleared, they would not have participated in the games.”
On Thursday, the IOC and the International Gymnastics Federation have been given “relevant documents” belonging to He, Lu Shanzhen, chief coach of China’s women’s gymnastics team, told the BBC.
The items, including an old passport, a residency card and her current identity card, were issued by various departments of the Chinese government.
“It’s only because there is a rivalry between the Chinese and American women’s gymnastics teams that these questions have arisen”, Mr Lu said.
In the women’s team event, the United States came second to China.
Reporters have also been told by Mr Lu that the parents of the gymnasts were “indignant” over persistent questions about their daughters’ ages.
“They have faced groundless suspicion. Why aren’t they believed? Why are their children suspected? Their parents are very angry”, he said.
Later, the International Gymnastics Federation said in a statement that “it is in the interests of all concerned, not least the athletes themselves, to resolve this issue once and for all”.
In order to protect the health of young gymnasts, the age rule was introduced in 1997.