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Saturday, August 23, 2008
Updated: August 24, 8:34 AM ET
China official ties confusion about gymnast's age to bad paperwork

Associated Press

BEIJING -- China's deputy sports minister has attributed the confusion about the age of one of its gold medalist gymnasts to a paperwork mistake during a team transfer.

At last year's China's Cities Games, Chinese officials decided to move He Kexin, who won two gold medals during the Beijing Games, from a local team to the national team. China's deputy sports minister Cui Dalin said Sunday that it was during this transfer that a "misunderstanding appeared" about her age.

"Last year at the all-city competition, He Kexin moved from one team to another and during the process of registering during the move, there appeared this age discrepancy," Cui said during a news conference.

"So it was the appearance of a mistake in the process of transferring teams that the misunderstanding appeared. However, I can right here accurately say that the ages of the members of our gymnastics delegation entirely conform to the requirements for participation in the Beijing Olympic Games."

It was at last year's China's Cities Games that the Chinese government's news agency, Xinhua, identified He as one of "10 big new stars" who made a splash at the event and gave her age as 13 in a Nov. 3, 2007 report.

If the age reported by Xinhua was correct, that would have meant He was too young to be on the Chinese team that beat the United States to clinch China's first women's team Olympic gold in gymnastics.

Cui's explanation comes as officials from the International Gymnastics Federation pored over documents in hopes of putting to rest, once and for all, persistent questions about the ages of all but one member of the six-person team. Chinese gymnastics officials handed over passports, ID cards and family residence permits after the FIG -- at the request of the International Olympic Committee -- asked for additional documentation on He, Yang Yilin, Jiang Yuyuan, Deng Linlin and Li Shanshan.

Gymnasts must turn 16 during the Olympic year to be eligible. Some media reports and online documents have suggested they could be as young as 14.

"All information is in Chinese and the [federation] is making as thorough analysis as possible of the papers," the FIG said in a statement Saturday. "This process may take some time, but in due course, the FIG will make a full report of our findings to the International Olympic Committee."

There is no deadline for the investigation, and the Chinese have insisted the entire team is old enough to compete.

"The international federation has required the delivery of birth certificates and all the documents like family books, entries in schools and things like that," IOC president Jacques Rogge said Sunday. "They have received the documents, and at first sight it seems to be OK."

Cui said the Chinese Gymnastics Federation had "actively cooperated" with the FIG and that checks had confirmed "the ages of the members of our gymnastics delegation entirely conform to the requirements for participation in the Beijing Olympic Games. "

If evidence of cheating is found, four of China's six medals could be affected. In addition to the team gold, He won gold on uneven bars and Yang got bronze medals on uneven bars and the all-around.

He was a last-minute no-show at a concert Saturday night with other Chinese gold medalists, and no explanation was given. Cheng Fei, the only team member whose age hasn't been questioned, was there, but did not do interviews.

Earlier this month, the AP found registration lists previously posted on the Web site of the General Administration of Sport of China that showed both He and Yang were too young to compete. He was born Jan. 1, 1994, according to the 2005, 2006 and 2007 registration lists. Yang was born Aug. 26, 1993, according to the 2004, 2005 and 2006 registration lists. In the 2007 registration list, however, her birthday has changed to Aug. 26, 1992.

"It's not just me. The parents of our athletes are all very indignant," coach Lu Shanzhen said Friday. "They have faced groundless suspicion. Why aren't they believed? Why are their children suspected? Their parents are very angry."

Until it directed gymnastics official to look into the age allegations one last time, the IOC had said it checked the girls' passports and deemed them valid. The FIG has said repeatedly that a passport is "accepted proof of a gymnast's eligibility."

But the controversy never quite went away, with new reports of age discrepancies surfacing every few days. Neither the FIG nor IOC has said what prompted the IOC to ask the federation to investigate, especially since competition was already over, but both said it wanted the matter resolved quickly.