He Kexin 13 or 16? IOC probe begins

Beijing, Aug 22: After more than a week of controversy, the IOC has decided to launch an investigation into the ages of several members of China"s women"s gymnastic team. Chinese press reports in 2007 and earlier listed the age multiple gold medal winner He Kexin as 13, which would make her too young (16 is the minimum age for gymnastics) to compete in the Olympics.

The Chinese gave the IOC her passport showing her being born in 1992, and the IOC took them at face value and declined to investigate. But other documents that have recently come to light suggesting she was born in 1994. The investigation was triggered after US computer expert Mike Walker contacted the International Olympic Committee claiming to have uncovered Chinese government documents proving the gymnast was underage. She could be stripped of her medals if the allegations are proven.

IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies said the matter had been referred to the International Gymnastics Federation, the sport's governing body, after troubling developments.

"More information has come to light that did point to discrepancies," Ms Davies said.

"We have asked the gymnastics federation to look into it further with the national Chinese federation. If there is a question mark, and we have a concern - which we do - we ask the governing body of any sport to look into... as to why there is a discrepancy."

He narrowly won gold on the uneven bars on Monday. Despite recording an identical score as US gymnast Nastia Liukin judges moved her into first place for style. She was also part of the gold-winning Chinese all-round team.

Bela Karolyi, a former gymnastics coach whose wife, Martha, trains the US women's team, has repeatedly accused the Chinese of fielding underage female gymnasts.

The ages of two other team members, Jiang Yuyuan and Yang Yilin have also aroused suspicion. Time magazine reported that government records, that have since disappeared, showed both girls to be 14.

The minimum age for female gymnasts was increased from 14 to 15 in 1981, and up to 16 in 1997, to protect the physical and mental health of young athletes.

Story first published: Friday, August 22, 2008, 11:36 [IST]
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