August 13, 2008 / 9:51 AM / 11 years ago

China not rattled by age questions

BEIJING (Reuters) - First China’s young gymnasts took on the United States and won, then the team passed their age-eligibility test with flying colors when grilled by a group of hostile reporters.

China’s famous six of Cheng Fey, He Kevin, Jiang Yamuna, Li Shenzhen, Yang Yilin and Deng Linlin had barely got their gold medals around their necks when they faced a barrage of questions about whether they were old enough to compete at the Olympics.

He, Jiang and Yang’s eligibility for the Games had been called into question by American media.

Online records seemed to suggest the trio may have broken International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) rules that state athletes must turn 16 by the end of an Olympic year.

Question: “He, are you aware that people think that you are younger than 16 and what do you say about that?”

Answer: “My real age is 16. I don’t care what other people say. I want other people to know that 16 is my real age.”

Question: “Deng, I would also like to know what Chinese zodiac animal you are?

Answer: “A monkey.” The answer tallied with her birthdate of April 21, 1992.

Question: “He, can you tell us a memory from your 15th birthday please, how did you spend your 15th birthday, did you spend it at home, did you spend it with gymnasts? Can you tell us about that special day.”

Answer: “I was with my team. It was an ordinary day, I didn’t go home, usually we don’t go home when it’s our birthday, we just celebrate with our team mates.”

So the news conference went on and not once did the so-called underaged gymnasts trip up.

Just in case anyone was not satisfied by the answers, coach Lu Shanzhen added: “You may check with the IOC (International Olympics Committee) and the FIG. All our registrations are done with legal evidence. You may also search on the Internet or even check with China Public Security Ministry.”

With the gymnasts asked only a handful of questions about winning the nation’s first Olympic women’s title in gymnastics, it was left to coach Lu to describe exactly how the hosts had plotted to topple the world champion Americans. Athens gold medalists Romania finished third.

“In the past our Chinese gymnasts usually practiced too much but competed too little to do well at the major international tournaments,” he told reporters.

“In this cycle we made great change, constantly sending gymnasts to the international tournaments as well as internal contests. Our six-member squad is also a result of internal competitions. So they have shown their strong abilities in acting competitively and grasping the chances. “Certainly I am excited it is an Olympics held in China and we have won the most important medal.”

Additional reporting by Liu Zhen

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