Changing China

Giant on the move

Spare a thought for He in gymnastics row (Update)

August 23, 2008

He KexinWhatever the results of the investigation into the date of birth of He Kexin, China’s double Olympic gold medallist, I hope we don’t lose sight of the fact that even in the event of any subterfuge the gymnast herself would not be the one to blame.

The International Olympic Committee has asked the gymnastics federation to check He’s date of birth of following claims that she might be under the minimum age to compete.

He herself was given a pretty rough ride by reporters during press conferences at these Games, with at least one journalist trying to catch her out by asking her what her star sign was.

She has also been asked to “prove” in a press conference that she really was 16. You can’t help wondering how she was supposed to do that.

He won team gold and a gold on the asymmetric bars. She was registered as having been born on January 1, 1992. Gymnasts must turn 16 in the year of the Games to be allowed to compete.

UPDATE: The International Gymnastics Federation has begun analysing documents from the Chinese, the organisation said in a statement on Saturday.

“The Federation has received a number of documents from the Chinese Gymnastics Federation, including passports, identity cards and family booklets,” the FIG said in a statement.

“All information is in Chinese and the (federation) is making as thorough analysis as possible of the papers. This process may take some time, but in due course, the FIG will make a full report of our findings to the International Olympic Committee.”

It doesn’t sound like there is going to be any advance on this before the end of the Games.

PHOTO: Gold medallist He Kexin (L) of China kisses silver medallist Nastia Liukin of the U.S. during the medal presentation ceremony for the women’s uneven bars final during the artistic gymnastics competition at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 18, 2008. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi


really? Don\’t we confirm the faith that a man is innocent unless he has been proved guilty? Considering Lance Armstrong,7 champions of le Tour de France,also had been doubted to take some stimulant . Not to mention 100 meters champion Jones.

Posted by Zh | Report as abusive

Age can not be define by appearance. Just look at US for example, we have teen girls who grow so rapidly, they can bypass as being over 20′s years of age. Who are we to say that He is underage, when most of the Asian gymnast which participated were all petty and little, differ from the the US. Cultural practice and food (different in every country) is a big factor which affect the outer appearance of everyone. I side with what Libra said. US is just trying to stir up China’s achievement. It makes me mad hearing the reports trash China when there is no sufficient evidence to support the claim of He being underage. US need to get of their high horse and face reality as they have lost to China.

Posted by China Supporter | Report as abusive

Poor example. Lance Armstrong is probably the most tested athlete in history. Pro cyclists have to report their location to the UCI almost constantly, and a representative can (and does) show up at any time to demand a sample.

Doesn’t seem much like innocent-until-proven-guilty to me.

Posted by TJ | Report as abusive

Sorry He! You can win next Olympics when you are of legal age and playing by the rules. Hopefully, you will not be faced with the same consequences by having to take silver, while someone else not playing by the rules takes gold. I have asked my good Chinese friends, could they really be of age? So far, just a smile without a response.

Posted by sta shoe | Report as abusive

Are you kidding me? He Kexin is not to blame? That’s laughable! Of course she would be in the wrong here… if the investigation proves that she is only 14, that means that SHE LIED about her age, just as the Chinese government lied. I’m sure that she would have been under a certain amount of pressure, but that does not make her blameless. She can come clean if she wants to. If FIG proves that she lied, she should be banned from all future competitions in addition to losing her medals.

Posted by Kate | Report as abusive

In the press conference after the team final, she was asked by American reporters about her Chinese zodiac sign, how she spent her 15th birthday, all kinds of the “age” test questions. Guess what, She passed the test. She got all the answers right.

See cle/7721354

It’s very difficult for a young girl to be able to lie and make up all the answers on the fly in front of those blood-seeking reporters. Even an adult may not be able to pull off something like that.

Doesn’t that at least cast a little doubt on your accusations?

Judging only by looks is just pure ignorance. Did you see the Japanese gymnast who performed last in the beam final? She is listed as 1 inch shorter than He Kexin. If you believe she’s 16, then it is entirely possible for a Chinese gymnast who has the same body type to be 16 too.

Posted by yina | Report as abusive

I have no problem with China hauling every medal they can get their hands on. The only question is, “Did they play by the rules?” And remember, guys, this is CHINA: they will do anything to grab the gold…even if it means falsifying the ages of its star athletes.

China can shoot the messenger to death, but the truth will come out. It’s only a matter of time.

Posted by JR | Report as abusive

I wasn’t surprised to see this article, as I also realized that, if justice is served and everyone stops pretending that the Chinese aren’t lying, this poor girl is going to be stripped of medals she probably thought she deserved. As far as He’s guilt, I’m certain that she’s been brainwashed to believe whatever Party officials tell her, thus I’m not surprised that she insists she’s 16. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s never been told her age. Think about it: you’re selected at age 3 or 4 to be moved to a special facility where fellow youngsters endure intense training for a spot on the Chinese olympic teams. I’d be surprised if any of them actually knew their age, as birthday parties and the like are a distinctly Western tradition. I fully blame the Party…but that doesn’t really matter, as everyone will indubitably bury their heads in the sand and pretend this never happened – and He and her compatriots will go on to dominate gymnastics for the next 8 years.

Posted by Charles | Report as abusive

@ Kate –

What you just posted proves how ignorant you are. Are you laying blame on a young child!? Even in the U.S., a person under 18 cannot make their own choices, so how can you blame a child for being culpable of a choice that was never hers. She probably had to train in gymnastics since she was 3 or 4, she never got to CHOOSE to be in the sport. She never had a choice, if all the adults in her life AND the government wanted to her to compete despite her young age. And think of the entire nation. They made it very clear that only olympic medals would satisfy, and to come clean to 1.3 billion people will seem to her like the entire nation will and can hate her if she does.

You put too much blame on a young girl, and you’re too harsh. How could you be justified to blame a young girl who has a hard enough time competing to satisfy a nation, in a sport she probably didn’t even CHOOSE. She has so much weighing on her shoulders, with added pressure of parents, coaches, people she doesn’t even know. When was the last time you had to choose to disappoint an entire nation?

No I don’t agree with cheating, and no I don’t think she should get the medal, but the one at blame is the Chinese gov’t and their system, not He Kexing.

Posted by Linda | Report as abusive

Reuters actually misses the point and misleads the readers with this short piece. You’ll need to read others to get up to speed. The controversy has to do with oodles of documentation available from Chinese government websites (deleted, but still available through search engine caches) showing she was consistently registered as having been born in 1994. It’s plain as day that the Chinese regime gave her a fake passport in hopes of scoring another medal, as this Games is as much about their image as anything else. But the author of this blog post hits the mark: it’s not He who cooked this up. It’s not even her coaches who are truly to blame. In Communist countries, sports and politics are one in the same. If anything, He is a victim. She’s been forced to compete vigorously at a young age, and now to lie about it. Unfortunately, I don’t have big hope in the IOC to remedy the matter. Their main concern is a smooth Games and not losing face. They wouldn’t have even called for a probe if media had not continued to find so many samples of proof of He’s age (9 state-run media reports and 4 official sports administration registration records at last count). Whew. Ironic that the hosts are the ones arguing to keep politics out of the Games.

Posted by Samuel L. | Report as abusive

Like 1996 gold medalist gymnist Dominique Dawes said, until proven, this is all talk. When asked whether she believed that the Chinese gymnastics team are 16, she added:

“I don’t really think about it that much. I mean the young Chinese gymnist that I competed against, they always looked very young but gymnist tend to look young. If you saw these American girls in street clothes, they don’t look 18- and 19-years-old’s to you at all. They look like young little possible 14- and 15-year-old’s so the Chinese women definitely look young for their age but that’s not a surprise in this sport.”

She’s likely more reliable than any online reports that most are considering as proof because Dawes actually have competed with other Asian gymnists. For her to state that, I think people should be more considerate. Yes, being younger does have it’s advantage but who are WE to speculate or accuse someone of not being a certain age because ‘she looks to young’. Are people actually comprehending these allegations?

What you see can be deceiving and heck, I’m 22 and people still think I’m 16! Just because I look younger than my age doesn’t prove that I am actually 16. Completely ridiculous! People should be less bitter and show better sportmanship to every athlete and every team.

‘Until proven, it’s all talk.’

The Olympics in Beijing was to unite the world in sports and hope to better relationships but with these forced allegations, I doubt nothing will change. Could China be given a benefit of a doubt or is that out of the question? It’s rather contradicting really because the media seem to accuse China of its ‘Project 119′, to win gold at all cost, when in fact, these allegations seem to only exist to strip the medals from the Chinese but to eventually only pass the gold to the USA team.

So does ‘Project 119′ only exist with the Chinese?

Posted by AG | Report as abusive

How can anyone who watched these children walk around between routines not recognize their immaturity. What judge in the USA would even consider the claim of an adult male that these girls appeared to be at or above the age of consent(16)?
The government of China has no credibility to anyone who was alive for the Tienenmen Square massacre. The age on their passports is just another lie.

This is not to detract from the fact that these children outperformed everyone else, but the rules MUST be enforced, for the integrity of the games. Disqualify them.

Posted by TackDriver | Report as abusive d Please visit my site : Give Kexin He The Gold



can I get a website that shows all 4 official documents? So far I have only seen one from ck-olympics.html and that cache it pointed to have He Kexin’s hometown wrong (she’s born in Beijing, not Wuhan) so I am semi-suspicious of the source (unless you think they changed her hometown too which is highly suspicious). The totaly cache page I am able to get to (from  /2008-05/23/content_6707927.htm+site:ch ct=clnk&cd=1) again said she is a Wuhan native, which is again wrong. Also, the journalist writing this know she is on the olympic team already, know her age was questioned before (the issue was first raised when she competed at the world cup), so either 1. some brave journalist is brave enough to step up and ready to unveil the truth or 2. they don’t know what they are doing.

The IOC can’t do anything unless He came out herself 10 years later and told the story. Screen captures of websites cannot be used as official records and China can easily say they are made up by people who purposely try to discredit He (you and I can make the same thing easily in photoshop). In fact, we can even make up caches so the webpage would look real. The only thing they can rely on is the very gov’t that might be cheating so this investigation is not going to end anywhere.

However, I do wonder….this is the third time the age thing has being bought up, why isn’t this cleared BEFORE the competition and now only afterwards. Also, before people claim 3 out of the 6 gymnasts are underage and now people only focus on He Kexin? Also, Deng Linlin was under scrutiny as well but the same screen capture shows He Kexin underage is showing Deng to be 16 years old. Before I thought there is definitely something fishy going now with the age, now I am just confused.

Posted by Lucy | Report as abusive


1. to judge an athelete of their age by their looks or perceived maturity is an extremely unprofessional thing to do. Even Alicia Sacramone, when asked to comment on their age, said even though they don’t look 16 she can’t judge because she herself doesn’t look 20.

2. I wonder how chinese gov’t has no credibility and now chinese media (which is a lot of times prepend with state-controlled) is suddenly the most righteous journalism out there in the world. You do realize people are using state controlled media to claim the state is lying, my question is, how is one more believable than the other?

3. You seem to claim more than one is underage, can I get some proof for the others? So far everyone is focused on He Kexin but I remember Deng Linlin and Yang Yilin is under scrutiny as well and it also seems like IOC is investigating all 3, not just one.

Posted by Lucy | Report as abusive

Well I’m just wondering if the official state documents are of no concern, then why did the Chinese government remove it from their website? Why not just leave it as-is? Or are they now saying they took it down because the information in those documents wasn’t accurate? Or they said the documents are taking up too much space on their servers, so to make room for new pages, they had to take down old documents. Puh-lease give me a break.

Posted by StillConfused? | Report as abusive

The only reason this is even an issue is because these Chinese gymnasts won. If they did not medal, do you really believe you’d be reading this?

This entire issue has never been about “playing by the rules.” It is about which nation can claim supremacy. This time, because the US lost to China in several gymnastics events, there is now loud noise amongst American media. Let say if Alicia Sacramone did not screw up her beam mount and did not land on her rear on floor, and thereby giving Team USA the gold, no one would care if the Chinese gymnasts were 8 or 80.

“Integrity of the sport”. Right. That makes the Olympics sound like it’s actually a sporting event. Wake up. It’s not.

By the way, if you want to judge a person’s age by looks, you can start practicing on Greg Oden.

Posted by What rules? | Report as abusive

If there was lying, then He is complicit, but then again, maybe she and her whole family would probably been threatened with God-knows-what kind of punishment. As for passports being official documents, well, they’re provided by the government and the government, after all, is behind all these lies. I’m not pro-American or anything, but cheating is cheating, and it’s understandable that the IOC is looking the other way. After all, why would IOC officials, treated like gods in China, bite the hands that feed them, right, Mr Rogge or Mr Samaranch?

Posted by Cindy Wan | Report as abusive

‘She’s likely more reliable than any online reports that most are considering as proof because Dawes actually have competed with other Asian gymnists.’
Same sentiments here. I rather believe someone who has taken part in gymnastics competitions than all those online allegations.

I also have similar experiences when it comes to my age, AG. I may be 21 this year myself but then people don’t believe when I told them how old I actually am. I have the official documents to prove my age.

Already I remembered well five years ago back in school, the lady who tended our school bookshop (I was getting some documents to be photocopied then given the school bookshop has photocopying services) was asking if I was 13 and when I told her I am actually 16, she was surprised. I supposed my height gave it away that I don’t look my age. I was always among the shortest in my class throughout my schooling days and there is nothing I can do about it.

Posted by diana | Report as abusive

Age aside, this debate hides something more sinister. Chinese children are subject to a state run gymnastics policy, and those that appear to be promising athletes are plucked from their families and driven down an athletics route with very little family contact at all.

How can any government sponsor removing children from their families at such a young age?

Posted by Carl H, Leeds | Report as abusive

Wow, it scared me reading the blogs. So many wrote as if He “is” underage and Chinese government have falsified the documents and Chinese suddenly became “free press” overnight, before even IOC have completed the investigation ! Wow….atleast He has IOC to give her a fair chance..pity Mr.Saddam.

Well, to be fair, if IOC’s investigation proved that He is indeed underage, then the gold medal should be given to the more deserving individual / team and He together with China’s gymnastic association should and must be punished, no two way to this. But, the bigger question now is : If proven otherwise, will the losers be gracious enough to accept defeat and train harder for next Olympic, and will the media, professional enough to accept the verdict ?……

Posted by PC | Report as abusive

The whole world is laughable especially the west. Can’t they leave the Chinese and those great athletes alone? Miss He has done so well and she deserves the medal. If her passport says she’s 16, why is there a need to fuss about?

I don’t think the Chinese government is lying or such. It’s like the USA is acting like a wounded dog because they cannot win. After all, greatness is returning to Asia and nobody can stop…

P.S. I’m not Chinese, I’m Burmese (proud neighbours of China)

Posted by ShweKywet | Report as abusive

Wonderful harmony games , we just ignore any Western media and enjoy China’s gift to the world. Long live Beijing!

Posted by Lee Ruan | Report as abusive

I agree with Samuel L. in that there was alot of information leading to the investigation, it has nothing to do with USA vs China like most would lke to think. It all has to do with following the rules and regulations of the sport!
You all need to let that low level way of thinking go and think of He, she’s the victim here with her government forcing her to compete.
No matter what the results were, she performed well and should be proud of her performances.
Oh, and, Kevin, it’s the uneven bars, not asymmetrical bars.

Posted by jv | Report as abusive

Car H, Leed,

the chinese government don’t go to individual families and kidnap children from their parents and through them in some military-like sports school. Instead, why kids are young, their various body builds are examines by officials from the sports departments and those who have above average builds are recommended for certain sports (ie, tall for swimming, small and thin for gymnastics, etc..) Then the parents decide whether or not they want to send their children to a special “sport school” where they don’t get as much education as normal kid but get to train in their area of speciality. This sport school start at city level, those who excels goes to province level, and those are really the stars move to the national level. Throughout this whole process, the parents have full say in whether they want their kid to stay or not and can pull out whenever they want. Of course if the coach thinks the kid is very promising, he might pursue the parents to not end the program and officials would come to the parents and convince them to let the kid stay as well but ultimately, the decision are the parents.

Yes I agree there is very little family contact in between and kids rarely gets to go back home once they move to provincial level school. However, it doesn’t mean the kids never get to see their parents again (since more often it is the parents who visit the school rather than the kid going home).

Posted by Lucy | Report as abusive


How exactly do you figure that in America a person under 18 can’t make their own choices? Minors can make decisions (though, they are limited) and they can be held responsible for their actions.

Posted by CourtneyB | Report as abusive

Agree with PC.

But I doubt that if after He is proven being 16, are the Americans accepting the result? The Americans will still keep attacking China, and insists on that the IOC is helping China lie about it. That’s what Americas always do! They always think they are right, but they don’t even know their US government is the biggest liar in the world, but they don’t even care about it. What a joke!

Posted by Michael Yang | Report as abusive

To Cindy Wan:

Now I know what people like you want from this investigation!

I also don’t agree with cheating, but Asian girl does look younger than her age is. I also hope the investigation could give a full report on this issues.

But it seems like that your people are not expecting if the investigation can come out with the result. What you care is to punish China and strip them of the gold medals. That’s exactly what you like, even when after the investigation ends in the result showing He is indeed of 16 years old.

So the fact is you are not caring about the investigation, you are caring about the gold medals.

Now I can understand it.

Posted by Michael Yang | Report as abusive

@Courtney H:

People under the age 18 are held responsible by parents and government laws. Consider this. The two main governing parties in a child’s life is there to to enforce the idea of responsibility upon a minor, and indeed the punishments for minors are vastly different than that of an adult, because children do not have enough understanding of actions and their consequences. This is a wide held belief, otherwise governments would treat children EXACTLY the same as adults.

However, in He’s case, the two main governing parties are actually enforcing her to cheat. It’s damn hard for any child to go against parents, AND the government, and the wills of so many people.

The two parties expected to help her learn responsibility and consequences, are the ones forcing her to lie. Can you blame a child for being a child? And listening to her elders who have told her for the glory of China, she must lie?

Whoever is responsible, it’s not He, for being manipulated as indeed, the argument of the US is that she’s definitely younger than 16.

Besides, the other gymnast who admitted to participating while she was 14 learned to know that it was wrong for her to, but she was just a child, obeying her parental units.

Posted by Linda | Report as abusive

I think she really is old enough and shes done more than enough to prove that, 14, 15 OR 16 shes still so young to accomplish such an incredible achievement and she should be rewarded for this. This row is just taking the light away from all the hard work and dedication she has put in. In my oppinion, yes the olympics is a huge pressure on young athletes but no, there shuoulnt really even be an age limit, or at least lower it. If a gymnast is ready at a younger age let her have her moment of glory. Age shouldnt even matter and why is it not the same for all sports then? Our great britain diving team involved a 14 yr old. Leave her alone to enjoy her much earned success.

Posted by India-Rae | Report as abusive

Neither He nor her parents nor any chinese authority
has ever had any respect for the age limit rule. She
was quoted in a chinese publication in which her age
was stated in line with the Stryde Hax internet info.
She said she thought her chances were very good in the
upcoming olympics. Either she was oblivious to the age
requirement or she didn’t know about it. BTW there
is evidence that few chinese are aware of the age requirement. Let them carry on their charade.

The real investigation should be of the IOC. The
IOC chairman should resign immediately and allow a
full scale investigation as to how this travesty got
this far.

One solution to the gymnastics problem would be to
raise the age up to 21. Does anybody think that
the chinese wouldn’t do just as well then? Leave
it this way and it borders on a freek show.

Posted by john lyon | Report as abusive

Stryde Hax’s evidence is completely worthless. He wasn’t even aware of the birthplace discrepancy until someone who could read Chinese pointed it out to him. Other than the fact that the Chinese gymnasts look young, is there ANY actual evidence that they ARE underage? Anything? sQ

Posted by CC | Report as abusive

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