London, Aug 22 : The International Olympic Committee has ordered an investigation into allegations that Chinese authorities covered up the true age of their gold medal-winning gymnast He Kexin because she is too young to compete.
The IOC has asked the International Gymnastics Federation to investigate after discrepancies came to light regarding He Kexin's age.
An IOC official said that because of the "discrepancies" that have come to light about the age of He Kexin, China's darling who won gold in both team and individual events, an official inquiry has been launched that could result in the gymnast being stripped of her medals.
The investigation was triggered as a US computer expert claimed on Thursday to have uncovered Chinese Government documents that he said proves that He Kexin is only 14, making her ineligible to compete in the Olympics.
Mike Walker, a computer security expert, tracked down two documents that he said had been removed from a Chinese Government website.
The documents, he said, stated that He's birth date was January 1, 1994 -- making her 14 -- and not January 1, 1992, which is printed in her passport, The Times reported.
Her true age has been the subject of a swirling controversy since the Games began. Questions over her eligibility intensified after she edged out US gymnast Nastia Liukin for the gold medal in the uneven bars on Monday, and was part of the team gold triumph last week.
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.
In July, the New York Times published references to articles in the Beijing press in which He was referred to as 14 years old.
Chinese officials responded immediately by providing the newspaper with a passport copy indicating He had been born on January 1, 1992, but still doubts lingered, not least because the athlete looks barely past puberty.
Story first published: Friday, August 22, 2008, 14:15 [IST]
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