Chinese Gymnastics: Fool's Gold

Brian@@IrishChesterCorrespondent IAugust 18, 2008

If you haven't been following women's gymnastics during the Olympics let me first provide a little background. The Chinese Women's Gymnastics team defeated the United States in the team all-around competition, earning a gold medal in the process. By all accounts the Chinese deserved gold based on their incredible performance and a lack of execution by the Americans. There is no question that, based on performance merits, the Chinese earned their gold medals.
Questions surrounding the ages of the Chinese competitors, however, left a dark cloud around the sport and these Olympic games. Reports issued before the start of the Olympics claimed that several Chinese competitors were under the minimum age requirement for Olympic competition. Here is an excerpt from one such report:

Even China’s own Yang Yun, a double bronze medalist in Sydney, said during an interview aired on state broadcaster China Central Television that she was 14 in 2000.

But questions about the current Chinese team have been particularly fierce. The New York Times first reported the suspicions about He and Jiang, and the AP also has found documents that indicate the two might be too young to compete.

He’s birthdate is listed as Jan. 1, 1994 in the 2005, 2006 and 2007 registration lists found by the AP. She is not found on the 2004 list. A list of competitors at a 2007 provincial competition shows Jiang with an Oct. 1, 1993, birthdate.

Seems fishy, doesn't it? Lets take a look at the history of age limits in gymnastics to gain a little perspective on the issue.
According the the International Olympic Committee, female gymnasts must be 16 years of age in order to compete in the Olympics. The minimum age was raised from 14 to 15 in 1981, and then to 16 in 1997, due to concerns from the International Gymnastics Federation that athletes are more injury-prone at young ages. The pressure of competition and rigors of training, especially for Olympic competition, puts a tremendous amount of stress on the body and can adversely affect physical development.
The IOC recently admitted that there are concerns revolving around the ages of competitors in Beijing. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that those concerns will encourage an investigation of the Chinese team because officials do not want to offend the host country. 
Fast forward back to the Beijing Games and there was yet another controversy, this time in the women's uneven bars event finals. All around gold medalist Nastia Liukin of the United States tied China's He Kexin with a score of 16.725. In years past, Liukin and Kexin would have each received gold medals as tie-breakers used to be non-existent. A complex set of tie-breakers, however, awarded Kexin the gold medal and Liukin the silver medal.
This look on Liukin's face says it all
Another gymnastics controversy occurred when Alicia Sacramone finished fourth in the women's event finals in the vault competition behind China's Cheng Fei, who landed on her knees during her second jump yet still scored higher.  
The Chinese may be winning gold medals, but have they earned them fairly? 
You be the judge.