Little Chinese Girls Win Gymnastics Gold

At least, that’s what this column by Helene Elliott of the L.A. Times says:

It’s difficult to write about female athletes who compete in sports that put a premium on small, compact body shapes. Calling them tiny seems disrespectful and sexist. They’re athletes who happen to be small, no less an athlete than a basketball player or swimmer.

These Chinese gymnasts are tiny.

Pre-teen tiny. Haven’t-lost-all-their-baby-teeth-tiny.

[…]

If the gold medals around the necks of the Chinese girls weighed almost as much as they do, the international gymnastics federation has only itself to blame.

Pushing for gymnasts to perform bigger and more dangerous tricks is a noble idea, but it has a big downside. The elegance of the sport has largely been lost, obliterated by armies of stick-figured girls who can twist their bodies more tightly, soar higher, tumble faster and score more points than girls who are on the far side of puberty.

The ages of at least three Chinese women—Jiang, He Kexin, and Yang Yilin—have been questioned based on conflicts between registration records that were found online and the ages that were listed on their government-issued passports. Gymnasts must turn 16 in the year of the Olympics or world championships to be eligible for that competition, but records provided for lower-level events showed all three are 14.

FIG, the federation that governs international gymnastics, said it accepts the Chinese passports as valid. The International Olympic Committee has said the same. If it truly had any doubts the IOC would probably have remained silent, so eager has it been to praise its Chinese hosts for reasons both merited and arguable.

Read the whole thing. It’s a rarity these days, a well-written column that makes a point without beating you over the head with it.

I can’t speak for the reliability of the “registration records” found online, since I haven’t looked into this issue at all. But assuming the birthdates on those records are legit — and I’m not sure why they wouldn’t be, unless one believes somebody purposely made these girls appear too young at some prior point, for some incomprehensible reason — this would cast serious doubt on the veracity of the Chinese passports for these girls.

But for Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports, apparently, if the Chinese government says the passports are correct, and that is good enough for the IOC, then it’s good enough for him, too. Dan’s b.s. detector is apparently not as well-calibrated as some.

When a passport is issued by the same government that has a vested interest in falsifying ages, and then that government says “no worries”, well, it might be worth checking into. Especially when that same government uses its power to manage information in other ways, like denying access to embarrassing info on the Internet.

And the IOC? Well, their record of integrity is not exactly sterling.

Wetzel is also concerned that the registration records are “old”. This is silly. Information on a document does not suddenly and spontaneously become falsified as the document ages. Or does he think somebody actually falsified it to make them appear younger? When? And why would they do that, knowing the controversy it would inflame?

Oh, I bet I know. Bush did it, just like he wired the World Trade Center to explode. Chumped again! What a diabolical genius … there he is, running around at the Olympics, flirting with the beach volleyball players and hanging out with Team U.S.A at the basketball arena, acting like a regular guy, and at the same time, running a top-secret mission to falsify “old” documents to embarrass the Chinese!

Also, Dan thinks this is all really just Karolyi sour grapes, because Bela coached Nadia Comaneci at the 1976 games, and she was only 14. One problem: it wasn’t against the rules then. And since the whole discussion is about alleged cheating, that is a pretty key distinction.

(note: slight edits made 15 Aug)

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