China official ties confusion about gymnast's age to bad paperwork

BEIJING -- China's deputy sports minister has attributed the
confusion about the age of one of its gold medalist gymnasts to a
paperwork mistake during a team transfer.

At last year's China's Cities Games, Chinese officials decided
to move He Kexin, who won two gold medals during the Beijing Games,
from a local team to the national team. China's deputy sports
minister Cui Dalin said Sunday that it was during this transfer
that a "misunderstanding appeared" about her age.

"Last year at the all-city competition, He Kexin moved from one
team to another and during the process of registering during the
move, there appeared this age discrepancy," Cui said during a news

"So it was the appearance of a mistake in the process of
transferring teams that the misunderstanding appeared. However, I
can right here accurately say that the ages of the members of our
gymnastics delegation entirely conform to the requirements for
participation in the Beijing Olympic Games."

It was at last year's China's Cities Games that the Chinese
government's news agency, Xinhua, identified He as one of "10 big
new stars" who made a splash at the event and gave her age as 13
in a Nov. 3, 2007 report.

If the age reported by Xinhua was correct, that would have meant
He was too young to be on the Chinese team that beat the United
States to clinch China's first women's team Olympic gold in

Cui's explanation comes as officials from the International
Gymnastics Federation pored over documents in hopes of putting to
rest, once and for all, persistent questions about the ages of all
but one member of the six-person team. Chinese gymnastics officials
handed over passports, ID cards and family residence permits after
the FIG -- at the request of the International Olympic Committee --
asked for additional documentation on He, Yang Yilin, Jiang Yuyuan,
Deng Linlin and Li Shanshan.

Gymnasts must turn 16 during the Olympic year to be eligible.
Some media reports and online documents have suggested they could
be as young as 14.

"All information is in Chinese and the [federation] is making
as thorough analysis as possible of the papers," the FIG said in a
statement Saturday. "This process may take some time, but in due
course, the FIG will make a full report of our findings to the
International Olympic Committee."

There is no deadline for the investigation, and the Chinese have
insisted the entire team is old enough to compete.

"The international federation has required the delivery of
birth certificates and all the documents like family books, entries
in schools and things like that," IOC president Jacques Rogge said
Sunday. "They have received the documents, and at first sight it
seems to be OK."

Cui said the Chinese Gymnastics Federation had "actively
cooperated" with the FIG and that checks had confirmed "the ages
of the members of our gymnastics delegation entirely conform to the
requirements for participation in the Beijing Olympic Games. "

If evidence of cheating is found, four of China's six medals
could be affected. In addition to the team gold, He won gold on
uneven bars and Yang got bronze medals on uneven bars and the

He was a last-minute no-show at a concert Saturday night with
other Chinese gold medalists, and no explanation was given. Cheng
Fei, the only team member whose age hasn't been questioned, was
there, but did not do interviews.

Earlier this month, the AP 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.

"It's not just me. The parents of our athletes are all very
indignant," coach Lu Shanzhen said Friday. "They have faced
groundless suspicion. Why aren't they believed? Why are their
children suspected? Their parents are very angry."

Until it directed gymnastics official to look into the age
allegations one last time, the IOC had said it checked the girls'
passports and deemed them valid. The FIG has said repeatedly that a
passport is "accepted proof of a gymnast's eligibility."

But the controversy never quite went away, with new reports of
age discrepancies surfacing every few days. Neither the FIG nor IOC
has said what prompted the IOC to ask the federation to
investigate, especially since competition was already over, but
both said it wanted the matter resolved quickly.