The International Olympic Committee today asked the international gymnastics federation to re-examine whether gold-medal-winning gymnast He Kexin and two of her teammates were too young to compete in the Beijing Games.
"You shouldn't regard this as a formal investigation, but we have asked the international gymnastics federation (FIG) to look into a number of questions and discrepancies on these cases," IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies said. "We have been working with the (Chinese) national federation to really have a full clarification on this topic. We did discuss it earlier in the Games, and we believed we had addressed the issue.
In the Olympics, a gymnast must turn 16 during the year the Games is held.
If He is determined to be too young, she would be stripped of her medals. In the uneven bars competition Monday, she narrowly beat Nastia Liukin of the United States for the gold. She also has a team gold medal. It is also possible all of the Chinese women could be stripped of their team gold medals.
The decision to further probe the allegations comes after a series of articles, most recently by The Times of London, said documents from Chinese sports agencies that had been posted on the Internet showed He is not 16. The article was based on a web report by a computer security expert who said he had obtained the documents.
Among those documents are gymnastics registration lists showing He was born Jan. 1, 1994, though the passport China submitted for Olympic entry listed her birthdate as Jan. 1, 1992.
These same documents and Web sites were the basis of articles last month in The New York Times and Los Angeles Times raising questions about the ages of Chinese athletes, including He.
Several of these documents and stories have since been deleted from Web sites, including a Chinese news agency report last November that quoted a Chinese sports federation official as saying He was 13 years old and a 2012 Olympic prospect.
He was reported to have started her training at the Ditan Sports School in Beijing in 1997 when she was either — or 5 years old.
"I don't know who is her mother," said Sang Chunyan, who trained He for three years at Ditan. Sang refused to talk about He's age, referring questions to officials with the Dongcheng district of Beijing, which oversees the school.
Some accounts say He's mother is an employee in the psychological research unit of the elite Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. Bulletin board postings list her mother's name as Yang Xiaoyan. The academy said Yang was on vacation and could not be reached for comment.
Wang Wei of the Chinese Olympic committee said the matter of athletes' ages was looked into and the athletes in question had been cleared to compete.
"Eligibility has already been investigated by authorities in the international federation," Wang said. "If the athletes hadn't been cleared, they wouldn't have participated."
U.S. officials welcomed the news of the inquiry.
"USA Gymnastics has always believed this issue needed to be addressed by the FIG and IOC," said Steve Penny, president of USA Gymnastics. "An investigation would help bring closure to the issue and remove any cloud of speculation from this competition."
In addition to He, documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times gave ages of 13 or 14 for gymnasts Yang Yilin and Jiang Jujuan as recently as last fall.
When the Chinese gym federation turned in passports to FIG, Kexin was listed as 16. On the documents, Yilin Yuyuan also had varing birthdays.
FIG spokesmen insisted throughout the gymnastics competition that it was not its job to be investigators and that as long as a country was able to issue a valid passport for an athlete, FIG would do no further checking.
Among Chinese fans on sports bulletin boards there is a vigorous debate about not only the gymnasts' age but about the ethics of lying.
One writer on a popular Tianya news site accused the Western media of "making a fuss to demonize China," but most contributors expressed the desire to have the gymnasts' true age revealed.
"I hope my county will win gold medals, but the rest of the world must be convinced," wrote one contributor. Another said, "Fake medals represent true shame."
IOC to investigate 3 Chinese gymnasts' ages