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Gymnastic age row rumbles on

Updated: Friday, 15 Aug 2008 07:46

China's gymnasts are suspected of being under the competition age of 16-years-old
China's gymnasts are suspected of being under the competition age of 16-years-old

Professor Arne Ljungqvist, the head of the International Olympic Committee's medical commission, admitted Friday there was no definitive test for assessing an athlete's age as controversy continued to surround China's women's gymnastics team.

The hosts took the team gold medal in the Olympic women's event in Beijing on Wednesday after allegations they'd broken the rules by fielding three gymnasts who won't turn 16 this year.

Ljungqvist, who said he'd come across issues of age-manipulation during his time as an athletics administrator in relation to world junior events, added he had been in contact with International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) officials.

But stressed he had no reason to believe anything untoward had happened during these Olympic Games.

"There are ways of establishing an athlete's age but none of them are scientifically or legally accurate. There is (an error factor of) plus or minus two years," Ljungqvist told a news conference here Friday.

He added: ‘I have spoken to the medical officer of the International Gymnastics Federation, who is aware of the potential problem.

‘But I'm not saying there is a problem here and now. There is no reason to believe age has been manipulated here.’

The New York Times reported last month that online records showed two members of China's women's team, He Kexin and Jiang Yuyuan, may be only 14.

The age of a third athlete, Yang Yilin, then came into question when the state-run China Central Television (CCTV) website posted a profile indicating she too was 14.

The gymnasts were shielded from the media ahead of the Games but held a press conference after Wednesday's win where they had to answer the allegations directly for the first time.

"My real age is 16, I don't care about what other people say, it’s none of my business," He said when asked about her age. "I want people to know that."

She was even asked to reveal her zodiac sign as it indicates the year of birth under the 12-year cycle of the Chinese astrological system.

She replied monkey, meaning she was born in 1992, which would make her 16 this year and eligible for the Olympics.

Due to concerns about the wellbeing of young gymnasts whose bodies are under huge stress when they reach elite level, officials introduced a rule in 1997 saying they had to turn 16 during an Olympic year to compete at the Games.

Last weekend, an FIG statement, said: "The FIG has received confirmation from the International Olympic Committee that all passports are valid for all gymnasts competing in the Beijing Olympic Games."

China runs huge state-funded athletics academies and has faced repeated criticism for the allegedly harsh regime it uses to prepare young gymnasts.

But their domination of gymnastics events in Bejing ended Friday when America's Nastia Liukin took gold in the women's all-around event.

Medal Table

Country Total
USA 45 27 30 102
China 38 28 23 89
Great Britain 29 17 19 65
Russia 25 25 32 82
South Korea 13 8 7 28
Ireland 1 1 3 5
Full Table

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