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Bela Karolyi and the ages

China's Jiang Yuyuan, who is listed at age 16, is competing in the individual all-around gymnastics competition. BEIJING -- Bela Karolyi is doing NBC television commentary for gymnastics, and even as he cheered on the U.S. women from his perch just above where the balance beam is located at the National Indoor Stadium, he also kept simmering over what he believes is China's "blatant" flouting of the sport's age rules.

According to the international federation rules, Olympic and world championship competitors must turn 16 during the year they participate. The two Chinese women who have qualified for the individual all-around  -- Yang Yilin and Jiang Yuyuan -- were named in several news reports as having birth dates on provincial registration lists in 1993 and 1994, respectively. According to passport information submitted to become Olympics eligible, they are now 16.

After China outscored the U.S. in team qualifications, Karolyi said the Chinese team is using "half-people" and that China is arrogant. "These people think we are stupid," Karolyi said. International federation officials have reiterated over the last two weeks that it is not their job to investigate "Internet" reports or challenge the passport information submitted by a federation.

"We are in the business of gymnastics," Karolyi said. "We know what a kid of 14 or 15 or 16 looks like. What kind of slap in the face is this? They are 12, 14 years old and they get lined up and the government backs them and the federation runs away. There is an age limit and it can't be controlled."

-- Diane Pucin

Photo: China's Jiang Yuyuan, who is listed as 16, is competing in the individual all-around gymnastics competition. Credit: Jed Jacobsohn /Getty Images

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Comments (104)

I'm not thrilled about the chinese breaking the rules either, but to call the Chinese girls half people is wrong on so many levels. Not to mention the fact that none of those girls are 12. It seems like two of the girls, with whom the rumors exist or only one year two young, and one is one year and a day young. That makes all of them "teenagers."

Karoyli might want to stop referring to the Chinese girls as half people.

The Chinese are arrogant? Bela's comments about the Chinese gymnasts ages are obnoxious! He calls them 7 years old babies in diapers when if in fact they are underage, they are only underage by a year or 2. And half people? Bela, get over yourself.

He mocks their heights for being under 5 feet and their slight weights. How many elite gymnasts on the world stage stand above 5 feet? And from what his former gymnasts say, Bela would love to have gymnasts and tiny and trim as the Chinese gymnasts. Does Shawn Johnson really look 16? How about Ksenia Semenova? The non stop bashing of the Chinese gymnasts really needs to stop and Bela needs to go back to his ranch.

As the Italian coach Casella says in the NYT:

....there will always be rumors that athletes are too young. Looks could be deceiving, he said.

“By looks, you could say that the United States is using doping,” Casella said. “They are so muscular. My gymnasts in Italy aren’t that big. You begin to wonder how they got that way.”

So, what I'm inferring here from Karolyi is that it's fine for other "regimes" to enter underage gymnasts as long as they aren't as slight and athletic as the Chinese ones? Way to distribute the criticism.

He's making an out for himself in case Team USA loses to China. "THEY CHEATED! WAAHHH!"

But he's right on one thing: the age restrictions should be lifted.

I hate to be the reality check in this but gee did we all forget when Tara Lipinski won Olympic gold medal in figure skating at the age of 15? Or does it not count when Americans do it?

Bela did the same thing for years in Romania. Lavinia Agache anyone? Emilia Eberle? He is such a hypocrite.

When I was 15, I went to a buffet at Vegas, they thought I was under 12.
When I was 22, I went to the same buffet at Vegas, they still thought I was under 12.
The point is you don't always know "what a kid of 14 or 15 or 16 looks like."

By ways the Chinese system has selected and groomed its athletes (gymnasts to be specific) for the 2008 Olympics, a selection process which started as early as 2003 if not earlier for kids to join to their national level training program, it is unlikely that they would have paid attention to anybody that is not age eligible to begin with. I am not saying that it is not possible. In fact, I am suspicious about the ages of He(bar specialist) and Yang(AA). I do believe Jiang is over the age limit, however. But why is Bela Karolyi kicked up his noise level a notch after the Chinese finished the qualifying round with more than a point lead? What if they were younger and not as good?


What exactly is half-people?
NBC and the U.S. is acquiescing to this guy invoking such discriminatory spirits?! That is obscene.

I have to say something...I'm a Chinese-American girl, I'm 21. I get carded for everything. Besides all the stupid side swipes he's taking at the Chinese on a personal level, on all levels, he's just a rabble-rouser at the end of the day. Those girls are all the right age, even if they are a little under 16, it's definitely not "12, 14 max," as he says.

How about this, Bela, you know nothing. You will lose all credibility in your field, and you've exposed yourself as a hypocritical, perverted, white man. The only half person is you.

I have to admit he has a point. I watched the gymnastics competition tonight with my parents and we all noticed how young the girls were. Not a one of them looked over 14; there's was one who I would've guessed to be 10. I'm not just referring to height, either.

Dahni, the minimum age for Olympic competitors has changed over the years. When Lipinski competed, 15-year-olds were allowed. Now they aren't.

Bela Karolyi should get a hair cut before going to television.

First of all, dont blame us because we look young. damn, is that a crime too?
Second, isnt younger people should to have less experience? If you get beat by less experience gymnasts, then sux it up.

NBC should not have him on ever again!

Apparently there are 3 girls on the gymnastics team who are under 16: He Kexin, Yang Yilin, and Jiang Yuyuan. At first, I thought the girls just looked young, but after researching it a bit, I believe that at least one of them is under age...even the coach for the Chinese team talked about He Kexin last year as being 13 years old, and now she is magically 16...? Here are a couple links, decide for yourself, but cheating is not cool or honorable by anyone. I would think that these things would be monitored and enforced, but I guess not.



China doesn't cheat at any sports dominated by the USA. God, I am sick of all these China bashing.. Okay, you won.

Karolyi's choice of words may have been offensive, but his complaint is valid. It doesn't matter how old these girls look. Two of them were registered with different birthdates at past competitions and, if those birthdates were correct, would now be under 16. But instead of investigating, the IOC simply asks the Chinese government to provide passports and then washes their hands of it. If it's true that these girls are underage, that's like basing a trial on whether or not the defendant admits his guilt. OF COURSE they're going to submit passports stating that the girls are 16 if they're engaged in an intentional cover-up.

And, yes, a one- or two-year age difference IS a big deal in gymnastics. Gymnastics is a punishing sport that exacts a huge toll on the human body. That's why gymnasts retire at 20 or 21 tops. The younger you are, the more energy you have and the less injuries. Lots of gymnasts are in peak condition at 14 or 15 years old, but their countries aren't allowed to send them. If the Chinese are flaunting the minimum age limit, they're getting an opportunity that other countries who play by the rules are being denied. That's not fair.

They should probably remove the age restrictions, but until they do, looking the other way will only stir controversy and animosity between nations.

Argh, I swear this guy. All he does is complain. He's the epitome of a sore loser and has never struck me as being someone who understands the "spirit" of the Olympic games. I mean, look at the way he's couched his complaint? Is he worried for these gymnasts he believes are underage? No. He's worried about his team and his team alone. If it is as he says, then a more serious issue is at hand. Yet he doesn't concern himself with that. It's only about "should the US Team lose, it's only because the other team(s) cheated." His referring to the gymnasts as "half people" is beyond insulting.

I agree with several comments regarding the deceptive appearance of age. I too am familiar with looking much younger than I actually am. At the age of 18, I could've passed for a 14 year old, especially if my hair was slicked back and I was as short as those gymnasts.

I didn't realize there were people out there who were experts on judging the age of Asian teenage girls. Asian women naturally look younger, we're naturally smaller and I can only imagine that, that would hold even more true for gymnasts. You can't judge the age of an asian girl the same way you would for Europeans or Americans. I'm not saying it's not possible that China IS using underage girls, me and my roommate (also Asian) even commented on how the girls looked 15, but shen she laughed and said that her sister also looks 15 (she's 19). So really, to make such a loud, firm statement based on nothing but appearance really portrays Bela's ignorance.

And really, it's not so much offensive that he raised the question of legitimate age in competition. That will always be a consideration in a sport such as gymnastics. The most offensive part is his choice of words and also (if you read the whole article) his apparent support of Chinese atheletes, claiming that it's only the government he's against but he thinks the Chinese gymnasts are great and that the government is insulting THEM by doing this. To be so fake as to feign support for the Chinese atheletes while openly disgracing them in front of the world. Disgraceful, tasteless, ignorant, fake, arrogant and evil.

Old Bela hit a nerve,didn't he? Ha,ha!

The observation that many Asians look young to Westerners is completely irrelevant here. (I am one of those young-looking Asians, myself.) Sounds like there is good evidence that at least one Chinese female gymnast is underage. The International Federation's excuse that "it is not their job to investigate "Internet" reports or challenge the passport information submitted by a federation" is pretty weak. If they won't enforce the rules, they need to make sure that someone else will. What good are rules if they are not enforced? We wouldn't accept such an excuse from the bicycling people regarding doping. Why should gymnastics be any different?

Asians do look younger, at all age levels. That's a fact, not a stereotype. Americans, Romanians AND Hungarians wonder every day "what's the secret?" its good genes, good diet, good health and good training that make these great Chinese gymnasts who they are. so long as they don't get trained by abusive coaches like him, or someone who thinks with only HALF his brain, these Chinese girls remain magnificent athletes and beautiful people.

He makes a valid point about the ages of those two girls on the Chinese team.

Did anyone notice how He Kexin began sobbing after she finished a routine in which she fell from the uneven bars? That's how children react.

An hour later, Nastia Liukin from the American team fell from the uneven bars after making a similar error, finished her routine, and reacted by looking frustrated and angry with herself.

In all fairness to Bela Karolyi, he is an immigrant and his vernacular is often not on par with that of native English-speakers. By "half-people," I believe his intention is to point out that these children are not fully developed mentally or physically.

In any case, rules are rules. If the Chinese are permitted to represent themselves with underage contestants, than every country should be allowed that same concession.

No one has said anything about his other comments, made with Bob Costas, in which he accused the judges of anti-american sentiment. This was regarding one of the American girl's nearly perfect routine on the balance beam in which she was given such low scores, even the commentators stated, "she was robbed" and were in disbelief. Karolyi rambled on about the low scores from some of the judges and made comments about cheating and anti-american sentiment.

I agree with some posters here, that the girls did look very young. As a USAG coach I can confirm what the age regulations are for the olympics. They must be 16 by the end of the olympic year, that is how we have some 15 year olds. My sister who is a dentist said why dont they check their teeth, for you can tell if they are 12-14 by looking at their teeth.
I have a girl in my own gym who is 15 and people swear she is 10 or 11. So by looks alone we cannot go on. I do agree they do not look or act like a 15 year old and there has been big questions on their ages due to different birth certifcates. I think the olympics should allow they younger ones to compete if they are that good. Yet rules are rules right now, and that is all Karoli was saying. He felt they were breaking the rules and it is crazy that they have the age set at what they have it set as. I saw the interview he never said anything about half people. He just felt they were cheating with the ages.
Also have you guys been watching the gymnastics male and female? The chinese seem to not have the scoring deduction system apply to them. Yes their diffculty level is there, but they have stepped out of bounds and I have seen some not so perfect routines that have scored better than Shawn Johnsons perfect one. Tonight during mens vault, chinese stepped two feet out of bounds. Should of been a deduction and he scores a little over 15. Yet our guys dont and score 14. What gives?

All of the sports that require multi judge scores are subject to unfairness.

I love to watch Gymnastics, diving etc but the ourcome is sometimes determined by judge bias.

On the matter of underage athletes. Contestants should be age verified conclusively the same as drug tested.

the truth is in the smile people. I beleive it is Deng Lin Lin of the Chinese girls team who has a missing baby tooth. Now, I am sure there are freak events that occur causing baby teeth to stay until you are a 16 year old but i don't buy it. Watch, the next competition she is in she will have a full set of adult teeth. The girl is too young and China should be kicked out of the olympics for the cover up.

so Bela may be a little dramatic when it comes to china and their ages. but it in my mind it doesn't matter if they are 10 or 15 and 1/2. if they are under 16 its cheating! If it is true that the girls are underage, i think Bela and countries around the world have a right to be upset. if teams can blatantly ignore the rules and get away with it, it just makes the entire event a joke. i can deal with defeat, but not a lie. i'm sure bela has similar feelings.

Who said that Bela should never be on NBC again? I love hearing what he has to say! Enough of these newscasters trying to smooth things over and make everyone happy. Bela says it how it is! That is what I want to hear. Evidence shows that China cheated and too many people seem to be cutting them slack. Well, Bela's offense of being a little harsh is a much lesser offense than undermining the rules of the Olympics, but those same people don't cut him any slack. It seems backwards to me.



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