Thursday, August 14, 2008

China Cheating at Olympics?

After the Chinese women's gymnastics team won its first-ever Olympic gold medal on Wednesday, its diminutive gymnasts celebrated on the arena floor, hopping and hugging and mugging for the cameras.

The team final had come down to the United States and China and was close until the final two rotations, when the Chinese team pulled away in front of an excited and packed crowd. In those rounds, the Americans made several notable mistakes, including two falls by the team leader Alicia Sacramone that paved the way for China.

One day after its men's team won gold, China scored 188.900 for the victory. The United States claimed silver by scoring 186.525, well ahead of the 181.525 recorded by Romania, which followed its gold at the 2004 Athens Games with a bronze medal here.

While the Chinese team celebrated, Martha Karolyi, the U.S. national team coordinator, continued to question the ages of some of China's gymnasts. Concerns over eligibility on the six-member team surfaced before the Olympics and have continued all week.

"One of the girls has a missing tooth," Karolyi said, suggesting that the gymnast was so young that she lost a baby tooth and had yet to have a permanent one emerge.

The grin of Deng Linlin, a Chinese gymnast who is listed as 16, indeed revealed a wide gap. To be eligible for the Olympics, gymnasts must turn 16 this year. "I have no proof, so I can't make an affirmation," Karolyi said.

China's coach, Lu Shanzhen, bristled when the age issue arose again on the day his gymnasts had upset the Americans, the reigning world champions. He would not explain Deng's missing tooth.

"It's unfair that people keep saying the Chinese are too young to compete," Lu said in Mandarin on his way out of the National Indoor Stadium. "If they think they can tell someone's age just by looking at them, well, if you look at the foreign athletes, they have so much more muscles than the Chinese. They are so strong. Do you then say that they are doping?"

Half of the team - He Kexin, Yang Yilin, Jiang Yuyuan - is under age if online sports registration lists in China are correct. The international gymnastics federation, however, said those gymnasts were eligible and that the ages on their passports were correct.

Yang, who turns 16 at the end of the month, said, "It's unreasonable for people to think I'm too young." She will compete in the all-around final on Friday.

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