North Korean gymnast who competed under three different birthdates being investigated

Saturday, October 2, 2010

NKorean gymnast investigated for three birthdates

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — International gymnastics officials are investigating another case of possible age falsification, this time of a North Korean gymnast who listed three different birthdates.

North Korea and Hong Su Jong will be given a chance to explain the discrepancies at a hearing and in written statements, the International Gymnastics Federation said Saturday.

Hong’s birthdate is March 9, 1989, on the entry list for the world championships later this month in Rotterdam, Netherlands. But she had a March 9, 1985, birthdate at the 2004 Olympics and the 2006 world championships, and a March 9, 1986, birthdate at the 2007 world championships, where she won the silver medal on vault.

If Hong was born in 1989, she would have been ineligible to compete in Athens. Gymnasts must turn 16 in the calendar year of an Olympics to be eligible.

The FIG’s investigation of Hong comes six months after China was stripped of its bronze medal from the 2000 Olympics for using an underage gymnast.

Age falsification has been a problem in gymnastics since the 1980s, when the minimum age was raised from 14 to 15 to help protect still-developing athletes from serious injuries. The minimum age was raised to its current 16 in 1997. North Korea was even banned from the 1993 world championships after the FIG discovered Kim Gwang Suk, the 1991 gold medalist on uneven bars, was listed as 15 for three years in a row.

But the issue drew worldwide attention in 2008, when media reports and Internet records suggested some of the girls on host China’s gold-medal-winning Olympic team could have been as young as 14. Those girls were eventually cleared, but the investigation uncovered evidence that Dong Fangxiao, a member of the 2000 squad, was only 14 in Sydney.

All of Dong’s results from Sydney were nullified, and the International Olympic Committee took the bronze medal from China and gave it to the United States.

To prevent age manipulation, the FIG last year began requiring all junior and senior gymnasts who represent their countries at most international meets to have a license. The licenses include gymnasts’ name, sex, country and date of birth, and are their proof of age for their entire career.

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