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FIG to probe Chinese athletes' ages

BEIJING (Reuters) - The International Gymnastics Federation has agreed to investigate claims that China fielded underage gymnasts at the Olympics after a request by the International Olympic Committee that it look into the issue.

He Kexin of China holds her gold medal on the poduim during the medal presentation ceremony for the women's uneven bars final in the artistic gymnastics competition at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, August 18, 2008. REUTERS/Hans Deryk

The IOC asked FIG on Friday to examine the case of double gold medalist He Kexin, who is registered as 16 although media reports have suggested she may be 14.

He, who won team gold and a gold on the asymmetric bars, was registered for the Games as having been born on January 1, 1992. Gymnasts must turn 16 in the year of the Olympics to be allowed to compete.

“Given that there have been some discrepancies regarding her age that have come to light, we have asked the FIG to look into this matter,” an IOC official told Reuters.

“It is because of these discrepancies that we have asked for this investigation to start.”

The FIG said it had asked the Chinese national association to submit documents proving the birthdates of five gymnasts -- He, Jiang Yuyuan, Li Shanshan, Deng Linlin and Yang Yilin.

He’s age has been under scrutiny since the start of the Games and various media have reported she had competed in past events under a different birthdate.

A U.S. computer expert had said in emails to the media on Thursday he had uncovered Chinese state documents that proved He was born in 1994 and not 1992.

The caption on a photograph published by Chinese state news agency Xinhua last year referred to “13-year-old He Kexin”.

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The FIG said it had provided evidence, including copies of passports, when questions were raised by online media about the gymnasts’ ages earlier this year.

“In the interests of laying the matter to rest and in response to a request from the International Olympic Committee, the FIG has now asked the Chinese Gymnastic Association to submit further documents testifying to the birthdates of the gymnasts,” the FIG said in a statement.

“On receipt of these documents, the FIG will forward its conclusions to the International Olympic Committee. It is in the interests of all concerned, not least the athletes themselves, to resolve this issue once and for all.”


Chinese head coach Huang Yubin said all their gymnasts had complied with age requirements, telling a news conference: “Since Asian bodies are not the same as Westerners’, there have been questions. But there shouldn’t be.”

IOC sports director Christophe Dubi said there was no evidence so far of ineligibility, while IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies said it was not a formal investigation but was designed to clear up the situation and “put it to rest”.

Games organizers BOGOC said if there had been a problem, the gymnasts would never have been allowed compete. “If they had not been cleared, they would not have been admitted,” said BOCOG spokesman Wang Wei.

USA Gymnastics, whose women were runners-up to China in the team event, welcomed news that the IOC wanted to get to the bottom of the controversy.

“USA Gymnastics has always believed this issue needed to be addressed by the FIG and IOC,” USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny said in a statement.

“An investigation would help bring closure to the issue and remove any cloud of speculation from this competition.”

He, who pipped American Nastia Liukin under the tiebreak rule to snatch the Olympic asymmetric bars title, has repeatedly faced questions over her age at news conferences.

Each time she has replied: “My real age is 16. I don’t care what other people say.”

China have had their most successful showing in the gymnastics at an Olympics, winning nine gold medals out of the 14 up for grabs.

Additional reporting by John Ruwitch and Sonia Oxley; Editing by Jon Bramley