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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)

First off...he said half people...meaning half-adult - meaning child...just stop to think about his broken English and his culture...he wasn't putting the Chinese down. He even went on to say they should get rid of age restrictions and base it on how good a person is that determines their eligibility.

But yet our country would disagree with that. In the US - most states require you to be 16 before you can work a full-time job. A good example an 8 year old who plays blue guitar was just ordered to stop playing clubs because he was too young. Being an althlete at this level is a job...you can't have it both ways.

Appearance only raises questions, but confirms nothing. Anecdotal evidence has little persuasive power. The NYT article raised troubling reasons for doubting the age claims regarding the Chinese gymnasts. Response? Equivocating. Arguments that reduce to " Ying did x (x = some bad thing), therefore Yang can do x too, does not change the fact that x is bad. The sad fact is that the IOC is a gutless organization when it comes to pursuing ANY questions or problems, possible or actual. Moreover, if one has following reporting, INTERNATIONAL, one would know that China has consistently abrogated the terms to which it agreed in hosting the Olympics, and the IOC refuses to pursue it. BTW, given that English isn't Bela's mother tongue( he butchers the language), he may have intended something in calling them "half people" other than what is generally understood by the terms. Just one wants to give the Chinese the benefit of the doubt, so too should one extend the same to Bela. At the very least one could hope for a modicum of consistency.

What is up with the missing tooth? Do you people even remember when you lost your front baby tooth? It was at the age of 6 or 7 so do they look 6 or 7 to you? Please use your brain to analyze what others say.

I cant beleive NBC is airing such discriminatory comments by Bela. Costas keeps feeding him subjects about China, knowing he is going to say some derogatory and offensive comment on national television. I am shocked that NBC with all its reputation would allow some uneducated jerk tarnish their objectivity. All his comments are purely speculative, unsubstantiated, and most of all derogatory.

I think that the majority of the people who are saying that the Karolyis were out of line AREN'T saying that cheating is alright or whatever because the article and most of the comments were focused on the Karolyis' behavior.

My personal opinion:

Speaking as a person of Chinese descent, I do get people saying that I'm younger than I actually am and that's kind of the same for other Asians that I know, but to me, the Chinese gymnasts DO look like they're underaged. A lot of the other gymnasts look young too (check out the Romanian team), but Karolyi only singled out the Chinese team obsessively and never wasted a moment in subjecting them to sly insults or blatent namecalling.

I definitely DO think that the Chinese team is suspicious and if there is real proof that the birthdates were fake (like checking their teeth or something like that), then they should be disqualified. But right now the rumors are just rumors. I also think that the IOC should've been stricter in making sure all the athletes met the age requirements and investigating claims of cheating as soon as possible. They should've realized that something like this would happen and taken care of it LONG before the games started.

If the rumors are false, then I feel sorry for the athletes for getting more attention because of scandal than for their hard work and talent. If the rumors are true, then I also feel sorry for the athletes for getting something that they wanted and having to give it back and for being eploited. Either way the athletes lose and its because of the Chinese government and the IOC (honestly, is it really that hard to check someone's teeth?). While we're on the subject of cheating, I think that if the Chinese team is cheating, it would be an incredibly stupid move by the Chinese government because they'll probably be found out eventually and that would be a thousand times more embarassing than if they'd lost while playing by the rules. Not only would they be embarassing themselves, but also the athletes and the fans and the Olympics.

But anyway, there isn't any definitive evidence right now so in my book they're suspicious until proven guilty or innocent (like I said, they do look young).

As for the Karolyis, I think that the Chinese team should've been called out but there was no need to act obnoious and unprofessional. They're only embarassing themselves and their team. They could've just said something like "They look underaged" and just left it at that. They should've went to the IOC right away with their concerns. There was no need for all that BS about half-people and diapers and what not.

I also think that the Karolyis' comments on age are more than about cheating. Like I said before, gymnasts from other countries looked or questionable age too, but they weren't called out at all. I'm also concerned with Bela's view that the age limit should gotten rid of all together. These tell me that all the noise that he's making is just because he's jealous that HE can't train a younger gymnast for the olympics and produce a winner. Still, these are just my suspicions, he's suspicious until proven guilty or innocent.

p.s. Whoever said that ALL Chinese people are liars and theives, you need to come back when you're educated (i.e. after you realize that there are good and bad people EVERYWHERE and in EVERY group and that making generalizations is unfair and makes you sound ignorant), because otherwise, you're just making a fool of yourself.

Bela Karolyi is an annoying old man who looks at least 10 years older than his age. For the first time he was totally ok with the score when the Romanian won the gold medal for floor exercise. He is so biased."

Bravo for Bela for having the guts to call a spade a spade. I see nothing wrong with raising questions when things don't seem right. There are several fronts where questions should be raised in the gymnastics competition - the ages of the gymnasts, the scoring, etc. If the placings can stand up to scrutiny then everyone benefits and the performances are that much more worthy.

Bela Karolyi is nothing more than a clown with strange accent and fake animated body language who is hired by NBC for ratings.

Hope you are entertained.

Bela and his wife are the most vindictive, petty, biased people i've seen in these olympics so far.

His wife was openly mocking and denigrating the chinese team during the competition. Bela, meanwhile, wants to rewrite history by making wild accusations he can't prove. And if he can't prove it, he shouldn't be spewing his hate on national tv. It is revealing that he was all sugar and spice when it was either the US or Romanians who won.

What ever happened to innocent until proven guilty. The INTERNATIONAL judges decided what they thought was the best. The IOC and Gym federation was satisfied with proof of chinese team age. Why does NBC allow these baffoons to denigrate competiting sportsman and women, opposite that of the olympic spirit. I'm all for ferreting out potential cheats in with proper procedure, but his comments was just plain ugly.

And Shawn Johnson is shorter than half of the chinese team. She's obviously heavier, but do not blindly attribute the slimness of the smaller chinese athletes to underage-ness. They obviously don't eat a fat filled western diet with all the growth hormones and unnaturally high protein in their food. How many research papers have come out saying western girls are reaching puberty at a much earlier age?

And about the chinese news paper reporting that one chinese gymnast was listed as 14 at some time. Well, GASP! My my, could a newspaper have made a mistake? Never!

Phil Graham is right. America is mostly a bunch of whiners, and if we don't quit whining and actually doing, we're going to be eclipsed by the workaholic chinese and indians very shortly in things with much more serious consequences than sports.

The the Karolyi's are a most disgusting symptom of what's wrong in America today.

there DEFINITELY seems to be a bias in the commentary that's being provided by bela karolyi and the other NBC correspondents during the gymnastics competition. it's super distracting and the criticism that the chinese journalists are receiving seem very strange -- perhaps some jealousy since china is swiping virtually all the golds? bela and the other NBC correspondents are sounded like total idiots though.

chicago, il

I want to start by saying that I find myself siding with Americans after reading every post on this thred. It might be that I'm an American and I want to see any American win Gold. Hey, who doesn't want someone that is representing their country to win gold? I try to take a step back and put me "being an american" aside and look at it from both sides. I am finding it hard to see it from the opposing side. I cannot overlook information that was posted in this thred like the dates the girls said they were born when entering competitions in 2007. Ok, I know mistakes happen but it is hard for me to ignore the fact that one girl put the same birth date for the last three years and now that its 2008 they say it was a mistake. I know every now and then you may give your wrong age when questioned (like right after a birthday)or writing the wrong year on checks weeks after the New Year. Come on though, how may people forget the year that they are born? Then 3 years in a row? Also, taking into account the other post with a link to YouTube with an interview of the oldest girl saying she was only 14 at the time of the 2000 Olympics. Oh and by the way, when I used the link that was posted it was already removed, but why? I think that several people may be ignoring the information that brought all of this to attention. The bottom line is that there are artilces and documents indicating that the girls are not of age to be competing. I do not think that skills are even a debate. The chinese gymnasts did very well and did win the gold, however; rules are rules. Everyone has an opinion (in which they are entitled to) but I think that many people are losing sight of the real issue. Several posts I have read are quite ignorant from both sides. Do I think Bela was right in what was said? NO, but after reading through some of the links I am glad he did put it out there. If he would have never made those comments this may not be getting the attention it is getting. If he had just said "Wow, these girls look really young" then there wouldn't be all this talking. I think with all the press it will force the hand of IOC and FIG to look into this more deeply. It might come out that the gymnasts in question are the actual age shown on their passports or it may show that they are under the age limit to compete. I just want the truth and if leaves the USA with the silver then I will still be happy. China did do very well and if this was not an issue I would agree that the gold belongs to them. Not to mention, if the girls were under age to compete then I think China will have a bigger problem then having the gold taken from them. The passports issued will be in question.

Bela is a joke

I think Bela should check his age before putting these aweful behaviours and ugly words on stage. He looks more than 60 from his hair, but acts like a non-educated child (under 16). Maybe only way to make him a actual man is to wait for his next turn of life, if he still has the chance to be a human being (I bet he will not choose to be a romanian at all if he gets the chane)

Asian girls are generally leaner and shorter than Americans

Japanese Gymnastics Women's Team
Avg height in cm: 146.67
Avg weight in kg: 37.33
Avg age: 19

Chinese Gymnastics Women's Team
Avg height in cm: 144.33
Avg weight in kg: 35
Avg age: 16.8

USA Gymnastics Women's Team
Avg height in cm: 153.67
Avg weight in kg: 48.33
Avg age: 18.17

Data from http://results.beijing2008.cn/WRM/ENG/BIO/Team/9990373.shtml



when chinese wons, Bela said "it's not fair, we were robbed." when romanian and US wons, Bela said " no problem on junding".
What a loser!!! If you are truly superior like Chinese male team, no one can rob medals out of you. Suck it up and keep practicing your routines.
BTW, bela, are you a defector back in 1980s? It's about time for your to show loyalty to your new owner.

i have no problem with the comments on the issue of ages but please speak better english, karolyi's english sucks so badly

what the hell is the point of a romanian guy bashing china on tv, and commenting with discriminated words? It looks to me that the only reason why this white trash is still on tv is that americans love dogs so much, and they treat dogs as their family members.

I can't believe so many people here insist those girls must be underage because they are Chinese. (Well, a hidden logic here is because China is sooooo evil, all the people there must be evil and liars).
And what evidence those people have? Something something from the internet? Geez, I don't know from when suddenly the internet has such an authority. Well, if anyone really cares about evidence from the internet, there is a video taken in 2003 and Jiang Yuyuan is featured in it. She told the reporter she is 12 at that time.

By the way, me, as a Chinese, know how a teenage Chinese girl looks like, and in fact, I would say they look quite normal as a 15or 16 years old. They secret of the age of the Chinese woman, is not to look at their face, but look at their body. Take a note here: Chinese girls typically start to have notable breast after 15 years old.

Bela, do you eat with your mouth?

Some people mentioned that the former Chinese athlete Yang Yun said she was 14 when she attened the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Please note there was not such kind of age limit at that time, so the age of 14 was just OK.

On average Chinese kids looks 2-4 years younger than American kids. Those chinese gymnastic girls looks even younger because they are shorter than average, and they have a simpler life from their bording school system.
People in US have watched too much sex on TV, ate too much hormone from their food, and dated too much in high schools.
Complaining does not make you corrent.


Hmm...Nadia was 14 in 1976 when she won her golds and scored her perfect 10's in the Montreal Olympics...but Bela didn't protest her age...Oh yah! Bela was Nadia's coach in 1976 at the Montreal Olympics...when she was competing at the age of 14!

I find it appaling that a country takes chldren away from their parents when they are 3 years old to groom them to beat the world. What happens if they are not good enough to compete? They have no family ties when they only visit their parents once a year.

Also, the reason to question the ages of the contestant is that for most gymnastics athletes, it will be the only time that they will compete. By allowing girls that are younger, it gives them more opportunities to compete. When one has passed puberty, it changes the body and therefore the ability to compete. The biological changes are evident and by not observing the appropriate age, the athletes are not competing on a level playing field.

Finally, the Olympic committee must train the judges, the time lapse between the execise and the score was ridiculous. The rationale for scoring was ridiculous especially for the chinese girl who fell off the bar wins the bronze.

Everyone here is falsely assuming Bela was being racist (or something-ist) by saying, "half-people." Please note that English is not his native language, and, more than likely, he simply meant, "not fully developed" -- biologically, as a result of age and age alone.



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