The parents of the Chinese gymnasts are indignant, the International Olympic Committee sounds satisfied and the Beijing Games are almost over. Yet questions persisted Friday about the ages of China's gold-medal women's gymnastics team.
Hoping to put an end to a simmering controversy, China was asked to provide additional documents that prove five of the six team members were old enough to compete at these Games. The request, by the International Gymnastics Federation, was made at the urging of the IOC, despite China's insistence that its athletes were not underage and the fact that there is no irrefutable proof to the contrary.
Still, the questions haven't abated, and so the Chinese federation was asked one more time to prove the girls were eligible.
“It's not a question of a final decision,” IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies said. “We simply want the federation to work with the national federation … to just put to bed once and for all the questions.”
The FIG asked China for documents on He Kexin, Yang Yilin, Jiang Yuyuan, Deng Linlin and Li Shanshan, and said it will forward all information to the IOC. The organization didn't set a deadline, but the IOC wants to dispel any lingering doubts as quickly as possible. The Olympics end Sunday.
Questions about the Chinese women have been swirling for months, with media reports and online records suggesting that He, Yang and Jiang might be as young as 14. Gymnasts must turn 16 during the Olympic year to be eligible.
Four of China's six women's gymnastics medals could be affected if evidence of cheating is found. In addition to the team gold, He won the gold medal on uneven bars and Yang won bronzes on bars and the all-around.
“We certainly believe that it's important for the IOC and the international federation to review the issue and hopefully lay it to rest because the questions surrounding the age of some of the athletes have been out there for quite a while and it's unfair to them and unfair to the other athletes to continue to linger,” said Jim Scherr, chief executive of the U.S. Olympic Committee, which sent a letter to the IOC and FIG on Friday asking that they take one last look.
China coach Lu Shanzhen said the athletes' parents are upset over persistent questions about their daughters' ages.
“It's not just me. The parents of our athletes are all very indignant,” Lu said. “They have faced groundless suspicion. Why aren't they believed?”
In an interview with The Associated Press, Lu said Asian gymnasts are naturally smaller than their American and European rivals.
“At this competition, the Japanese gymnasts were just as small as the Chinese,” he said. “Chinese competitors have for years all been small. It is not just this time. It is a question of race. European and American athletes are all powerful, very robust. But Chinese athletes cannot be like that. They are by nature that small.”
Lu said the governing body of gymnastics has already been given some of the requested documents, turning over He's current and former passport, ID card and family residence permit Thursday. Lu said the documents all say she was born in 1992.
“Surely it's not possible that these documents are still not sufficient proof of her birthdate?” Lu asked. “The passports were issued by the Chinese Foreign Ministry. The identity card was issued by China's Ministry of Public Security. If these valid documents are not enough to clarify this problem, then what will you believe?”
this month, the AP found registration lists previously posted on the Web site of the General Administration of Sport of China that showed both He and Yang were too young to compete.