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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)

One more comment, it is the "Girls in Pretty Boxes" phenomenon. Who would better continue that trend than little China dolls? It's not so much whining or accepting defeat than worrying about whether it is fair to those girls. Is it? Should gymnastics start early and end early or start later with injuries but with teenagers rather than children handling the international spotlight?

Since when have Chinese ever played fair?
They steal and copy patents, they steal and copy software, thet lie about industrial accidents to continue to export to US, the box apples in grown in Washington Boxes. They supply Walmart and others with slave labor.
They poision US children with toxic paints, the poision US pets they poision US people with foods.
What else as a nation do we do? Well they will and have cheated at the Olympic games those girls were 10-11. They cheat at everything else becuse they cant win on a fair playing field, they win by slavery and opression which never wins in the long run.

The gymnast is Yang Yun. This has been widely discussed in the media - you can check out the New York Times article here:


From the article:

"Yang Yun of China won individual and team bronze medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and later said in an interview on state-run television that she had been 14 at the time of those Games. A Hunan Province sports administration report also said later that she had been 14 when she competed in Sydney."

You can hear her for yourself (if you understand Chinese) here:


"Where is this quote from? What source? Is it even credible? Just as people have said that the Chinese Media is unreliable when reporting, the SAME people quote and use it as evidence. So... are you basing your argument saying that some publisher "quoted" a chinese bronze medalist?

Posted by: bobby | August 13, 2008 at 02:53 PM "



Go to youtube and search Yang Yun My Olympics.

You can hear Yun say for herself (in Chinese) that she was 14.

This has been extensively reported, including in the New York Times, but sourced not isn't just from Chinese media, but from the medal-winning gymnast herself.

There were several close ups in the competition last night and you could see the girl's teeth very visibly. They were baby teeth. The Chinese may have their young looks but teeth can't lie. If they were 16 they would have their permanent teeth by now. It is obvious cheating and the discussion of other people cheating is irrelevant. Cheating is cheating and just because someone else cheated does not give someone else the right to cheat. The Chinese just monopolized on the fact the competition took place in their country. As far as abuse mentioned earlier the Chinese basically abuse their gymnasts and hit or beat them when they do something wrong. There has been lots of coverage and videos on it so anyone who will beat children gymnasts would cheat and never think anything about it.

Chris Hauge,

"Since when have Chinese ever played fair? They steal..."

Wow, talk about racism here. There are 1.3 billion Chinese so are you saying all of them are liars and thieves. We Americans have our share of bad apples: Marion Jones, the guy who won Tour de France on steroids and the swimmer who was tested positive, etc. How would you feel if a Chinese person accuses all Americans as being liars and thieves just because of a few bad American apples?

What a sore loser... anyways silver is fantastic! He's just trying to blame others for his own faults. USA needs a better coach. Regardless of whether they were underage or not, China still performed better.


Bela's comments are way over the line. The simple thing is, if the US didn't make 3 enormous mistakes in a row on floor exercise, we would have won. Age had nothing to do with this

I do not know that we(United States) don't have better gymnasts right now that are 14-15 years old and therefore uneligible for Olympic competetion under the current regulations.

Hypothetically if we did, but the age restriction is 16 and we don't send them because we are playing by the rules and China's gymnasts that are "of age" are not as good as the ones that are "underage" but they don't play by the rules then they are cheating.

Cathy, No one's saying we want more restrictions. Just that the restrictions that are in place should be followed by everyone. It's ironic that the Chinese talk about honor and glory for their country, but they see no problem in cheating to get there. I think they truly see cheating as OK as long as no one can ever prove it.

Whether or not the Chinese team was better is irrelevant here. Yes, they did perform better and deserved to win, but that still doesn't make cheating OK.

This competition has basically the put out the message that the age requirement isn't strictly enforced.

Yes, I think the Chinese were clearly the best, but I think, for the sake of the integrity of the games, the issue should be investigated. If the Chinese girls are really 16, they have no reason to fear an investigation.

I believe Bela said that the Chinese deserved to win. He's not blaming the USA's loss on their cheating. He just said it's too bad China appears to have cheated. And, based on what we've seen, they do appear to have cheated. It would be nice to find proof one way or the other so there's no more speculation. I agree that the age verification process needs to be more thorough. It's not about who won, it's about making sure everyone plays by the same rules. What's so bad about that?


Posted by: SMELLA CARROLA | August 13, 2008 at 10:31 PM "

Can you keep your comments relevant? And FYI Marion Jones surrenderd ALL of her medals that she won in the 2000 Olympics.

The American team lost because they did not perform as well at the time.

BUT, if the Chinese Team has girls that are ,under current regulations, underage and therefore not qualified to compete, then YES THEY ARE CHEATING.

i am a teenage gymnast, and i just want to say that this fiasco has taught me that the world cannot cooperate. there is no such thing as friendly competition at the olympics. this is GYMNASTICS! its a GAME! if we can't follow the rules in a GAME how is their any hope for the world with serious matters? it makes me absolutely sick.

I understand Bela's point. I was in gymnastics for 9 years and was able to attend his camp in Texas back in the 80's. I was a coach and now, at 38 years old, I know how the game is. There are two girls in particular on the Chinese team that is way under the age of 16. It's not hard to get your government to "fix" your documents for things like the Olympics and other large media venues. It also brings in money and prestige to the country you are representing. It's nothing new. Their height has nothing to do with appearance. I'm only 4'1. I've never looked my age, but at 16 I was never mistaken for an 11 or 12 year old girl.

NBC keeps putting Bela on TV even though he called these Chinese girls half-people. Imagine what would happen if someone called an Israeli team half-people. It seems nobody cares about racism when it is directed at Asians.

On the 'All Quiet on the Wrestling Front':

I am a friend of Ara Abrahamian's. I just got off the phone with him. And he texted my cell:

It's not only Bella though, it is also Martha Karolyi and her calling the chinese team "little people" during the women's finals and her consistent laughing and taunting. It's karmic retribution and complete BS that she has the audacity to call out the age limits as well as bella. The USA team had a chance to clench the gold and they didn't take it. cheng fei fell off the beam, so did sacramone. however, it was sacramone's horrible performace on the FX that costed them the gold...as well as johnson and liukin stepping out of bound. Every point counts. Should the US have one the gold, would Bella or Martha be making such a big pandamonium.

i admit the girls look young... but you have to take into consideration the training, the size of the girls, the choosing, talent, and importantly diet. it's everything. I think the Karolyi's show poor sportsmanship and the older they get, the more they realize they don't have it together like they "probably" once did.

It's very noble that some people are trying to defend the Kintergar...err I mean the Chinese team. Yes, some people look young, I'm 20 and been told I don't look a day over 16. HOWEVER, one of the "women" had her BABY TEETH! She was losing her baby teeth, there is NO one who at 16 is still getting visits from the tooth fairy!
Oh yeah, and to the ignoramus who brought up Lipinski, the rule is you have to turn 16 in the year of the Olympics.

i have read a number of people mention that they are not that young just one or two years younger then what is allowed. But that is illegal. Why have a rule if you can just say "She is close enough in age"--. If the americans did it then they should be disqualified too. This link shows artilces where the gymnast in question is shown to be 14. Breaking the rules is breaking the rules--even if you feel it is just a little.


The "half-people" comment was out of line, unless that's some slang term for a child. Either way, Bela's right. Even for a petite Chinese gymnast, that girl doesn't look anywhere near 16. In the friendly spirit of the games, you'd think the host country of all places would frown on cheating.

There would not be 72+ comments on this topic if the US team had won the Gold Medal, so stop saying this isn't a matter of "sour grapes" over losing out to the bettere team.

Rules are rules, and if they're broken, appropriate sanctions should be imposed. What strikes me as racist is that Bela Karolyi thinks he knows the ages of the Chinese gymnasts just by looking at their bodies and faces. I don't think anyone who lives in an Asian community anywhere in the world would agree. Without anything more by way of proof, Bela is libeling the Chinese gymnasts as sure as Don Imus libeled the Rutgers womens basketball team.

Oh please stop the "they look 16" accusation already. The Karolyis are a bunch of morons and whiners, and everybody knows it. America is not the center of the universe guys. Western view of what a 16 year old should look like is based on Jamie Lynn Spears. Whine whine whine whine whine... accusing one thing after another just because they don't fit what you expect or want to see.


The rules have been set out; they are the rules. The age was changes from 13 when Nadia Comaneci was 14 when she competed in 1976 Olympics; The rules since then have changed to allow only those born before Jan 1,1993 inorder to compete;


Korea was barred from the FIG tournaments in 1993 not becuase it was an unfair advantage, BUT IT IT WRECKLESS TO THE SAFETY OF YOUNG ATHLETES.

Bela is not a hypocrite, and I wager he knows 2 ORDERS OF MAGNITUE MORE about gymnastics than any person commenting in this forum, incluuding myself, and certainly the IOC




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