Bela Karolyi says he views the probe into the ages of Chinese gymnasts from the 2000 Olympics as a lame attempt to shift the focus from the investigation of this year's athletes that resulted in no sanctions for China's gold-medal team.
"I think that's just a cover-up," Karolyi said Thursday, in Chicago to help USA Gymnastics promote the Tyson American Cup set for the Windy City in February. "They're trying to hold onto their reputation on this issue, when it's one of the most blatant things we've ever seen."
Last month, the International Gymnastics Federation closed the investigation into whether the Chinese gymnasts who beat the United States for the gold medal in Beijing were underage. But the federation said it wanted more information about two members of China's 2000 team -- Dong Fangxiao and Yang Yun -- saying the evidence and explanations about their ages was not satisfactory. China won the bronze medal in Sydney, and Yang also won a bronze on the uneven bars.
Gymnasts must turn 16 during an Olympic year to be eligible to compete.
Dong's official birthdate is listed as Jan. 20, 1983. But her accreditation information for the Beijing Olympics, where she worked as a national technical official, lists her birthdate as Jan. 23, 1986, said Andre Gueisbuhler, the FIG's secretary general.
Yang, meanwhile, said in a June 2007 interview that aired on state broadcaster China Central Television that she was 14 in Sydney. She has since said she misspoke.
Gueisbuhler told The Associated Press earlier this week that there were no updates on the investigation of the 2000 athletes.
Karolyi, former leader of the U.S. team and husband of national team coordinator Martha Karolyi, said the 12 weeks that have passed since the Olympics have not diminished his anger about the age issue in gymnastics. He long has been a proponent of abolishing the age limit, saying that if gymnasts have the mental and physical ability to perform the skills, they should be allowed to compete.
"If you take it away and our kids lose, they lose," he said of the age limits. "Those Chinese kids are good. I have nothing against the Chinese kids. But how about the other kids who were staying home? Here's Rebecca Bross, two months short of being able to compete, sitting, crying in front of her TV, watching kids younger than her compete."
Bross, the 2007 U.S. junior champion, turns 16 next year and wasn't eligible for Beijing.
Karolyi also said he was complaining about the Chinese team back in 2000, when he ran the U.S. women's team that finished fourth.
"I was screaming, 'Look, she was on the junior team, she was here the year before as a junior," Karolyi said. "How did she make up two years of age in one year? So now, eight years later, they come back and investigate that kid?"
Steve Penny, the president of USA Gymnastics, said the age controversy isn't likely to go away now that the Olympic torch is out -- at least not in the minds of those involved daily in gymnastics.
"Bela makes a good point when he says the Chinese kids went out there and did a good job. They performed," Penny said. "But there's a rule that says you've got to be 16. And because of everything surrounding this, it takes away from their performance on the field of play. It's going to loom over the event for a long time, I think."
Ropes and mats
Karolyi said Martha's battery is fully charged, and she's ready to lead the team at least through the 2012 Olympics. She's 66. "Martha is amazing," Karolyi said. "I don't know where in the world she gets that energy and drive. She really amazes me. She's very, very much into it, very much dedicated." Penny said the Karolyis are in USA Gymnastics' long-term plan, and he expects Martha to run the women's program at least through 2012. "The program is working, and people are happy about it," he said. "People want to keep it going." ... All-around Olympic gold medalist Nastia Liukin took some time off from touring in a post-Olympic gymnastics show to visit the American team at Karolyi's first team training camp in the new Olympic cycle. Bela Karolyi said Liukin, who turned 19 last month, has made it clear she wants to keep competing, though she hasn't committed to how long.