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Friday, August 22, 2008
Here's how the IOC can really get to the bottom of this gymnast scandal

By Jim Caple
ESPN.com

BEIJING -- So, the International Olympic Committee wants the International Gymnastics Federation to investigate the ages of Chinese gymnasts to put the matter to rest once and for all.

China Gymnasts
The IOC has opened an investigation into whether China falsified the ages of members of its women's gymnastics team.

I'm not sure what it hopes to find because the Chinese government assures us its gymnasts were all of qualifying age -- despite many documents to the contrary, plus the fact that one was seen competing with her umbilical cord still attached. And the Chinese government would never lie, would it? Just as our presidents never tell a fib.

The IOC can save a lot of time, effort and money by taking a far simpler, more conclusive and, quite frankly, obvious approach to this issue. If it wants to know whether an athlete is cheating, simply check the passports. If they say "U.S. citizen," then the athletes are above suspicion. If they say anything else, they are guilty. (Well, maybe not the Canadians, who aren't suspicious because they're not winning anything.)

Hasn't the IOC been paying attention to American Olympic coverage over the decades? Our Olympians are always clean. It's the other athletes who cheat like foreign accountants in offshore tax havens.

Those Chinese swimmers who medaled in the women's 200-meter butterfly? They clearly juiced because there is no way a relatively unknown team could medal and shave such time off previous world records. Only an American who has been on the cover of Time magazine, such as 41-year-old hero Dara Torres, could do that without raising suspicions. I mean, c'mon! Our success in the pool wasn't a surprise. Everyone expected our swimmers to win tons of medals, and they did, even though they had to overcome all the people who said they couldn't do it.

And those newfangled speedsuits had nothing to do with their world-record times, either, so you can just forget about that right now.

Which brings me to all those nations who keep stocking their teams with ringers. Becky Hammon competing for Russia even though she doesn't speak the language? Milorad Cavic swimming for Serbia even though he grew up in Anaheim (I didn't realize Disneyland had been part of the former Yugoslavia)? Appalling. America would never fast-track athletes for citizenship, unless perhaps they were from Africa and had awesome qualifying times.

These countries are merely trying to surpass our gold-medal total, which is foolhardy. The Chinese even regularly update their "Olympics-leading" gold tally on chalk and message boards throughout the city. That's just sad, and a terrible twisting of the true Olympic spirit.

The Olympics aren't about which country wins the most gold medals; they're about which country wins the most medals, period. And America holds a solid lead there. Besides, the "official" gold tally neglects all the multiple golds we've won on relay teams and in other team sports. This just isn't fair. How can you not count all gold medals that are handed out to an entire team? By the time you include all our gold medals -- eight for each men's swimming relay team because the athletes in the qualifying heats get them, as well -- I bet we'll have a commanding lead there.

But I do hope the IOC gets to the bottom of this age controversy because it is damaging the credibility of gymnastics, which is otherwise utterly beyond reproach and never subject to the manipulation of biased or petty judges. That, of course, is due to the straightforward and easily understood scoring system that is such a hit with viewers.

Something, after all, must be done to prevent immature, underage girls from being thrown into an intense, pressure-packed international competition they are far too young to handle emotionally. Forcing a young girl to compete like that would be like entering a 6-year-old in a beauty contest, or a fifth grader in a national spelling bee, or expecting an 11-year-old boy to compete in a worldwide baseball tournament on national TV. Americans just don't believe in placing that kind of pressure on children.

By the way, be sure to tune into the Little League World Series this weekend on ESPN. I just hope those foreign kids with the beards and mustaches are really 12.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached here. His Web site is at jimcaple.net.