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It's IOC official: He Kexin is 16

October 1, 2008 |  1:28 pm

Chinese gymnasts He Kexin, left, and Yang Yilin are shown after the uneven bars competition at the Beijing 2008 Olympics.

Well, this is a surprise.

After receiving more documents from the Chinese gymnasts federation, the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) and International Olympic Committee (IOC) have ruled that He Kexin, Yang Yilin and Jiang Yuyuan were age-eligible for the Beijing Olympics.

But, wait. These FIG and IOC bureaucrats are doing something else! Yes, they now are looking at 2000 Sydney Games gymnasts Yang Yung and Dong Fangxiao. Further investigations are promised!

This investigation shouldn't be so hard. Yang went on state-run Chinese television a couple of years ago and admitted she was 14 in Sydney. Not that her admission originally swayed FIG bigwigs who heard Yang's words the day before the 2008 Olympics started.

FIG president Bruno Grandi said Yang's words, delivered to him via that pesky Internet, were not nearly as persuasive as her passport. Which, as FIG knows from past experience (North Korean world champion Kim Gwang Suk competed for three years on a passport that listed her as being 15), passports -- especially in totalitarian states -- can be modified to fit any situation.

U.S. team director Martha Karolyi said Wednesday that she was not surprised by the outcome of FIG's investigation: "It was what we thought it would be."

She wishes that the age rule would be eliminated.

"I honestly do not think Mr. Grandi will lower the age," Karolyi said. "He definitely likes the older age, the more maturity, the gymnast who can be more expressive." When asked how that preference fits with his seeming acceptance of the prepubescent Chinese group (when there was documented evidence indicating some sort of age manipulation) Karolyi said, "Yes, that is curious. But look at where we were."

She meant Beijing.

But Karolyi also takes heart that FIG (reluctantly) conducted the investigation. "In the future this might mean countries will have to think twice about their documents," Karolyi said.

Here's a proposal my husband suggested during the Games.

Forget about ages. Just have a weight requirement. Say, 80 pounds for the women.

Put a scale on the arena floor. Athletes step up and weigh in. If the scale says "80," then it doesn't matter whether the competitor is 9 or 90. If you're good enough, and weigh enough, you can compete.

-- Diane Pucin

Photo: China's gold medal-winning gymnast He Kexin, left, and bronze medalist Yang Yilin are shown during the medals ceremony for the uneven bars on Aug. 18, 2008 at the Beijing Olympics. Credit: Matt Dunham, file photo/Associated Press Photo