Other bombshell headlines that might knock me over with a feather: "Local Waffle House Fails Health Inspection." "Congressman Indicted." "Blockbuster Summer Movie A Disappointment." Now let's add "One Of Those Chinese Gymnasts Might Not Be 16 Years Old At All" to the list.
In a world where Olympic athletes must be at least 16 years old, the Associated Press is pretty sure that gymnast He Kexin is only 14, confirming what Bela Karolyi has been yammering about all this time. They say a November 3, 2007 report from Xinhua, the Chinese Govermnent's Media Agency So You Know You Can Trust Them, cited He's age as 13. The report isn't there anymore, but the AP claims they downloaded a copy of it. LexisNexis must feel like chopped liver.
The age listed on her official Olympic bio is January 1, 1992, which makes her 16 and eligible to compete in the games. That's the same age on her passport. Well, then, case closed. Except, if she is 14 like the Xinhua report said, then, well, we got ourselves a situation.
Xinhua sports editors aren't commenting on the report, while a representative of Chinese gymnastics said they got the age wrong. And even He Kexin has said she's actually 16, which in my mind is the most solid proof unless the Chinese government is forcing He to lie through her baby teeth.
As I've said before, I don't see the big deal behind the age minimum, because there's no real competitive edge to be had. Preventing people that young from competing in professional contact sports is a tremendous idea, however, because while their skills may be comparable to adults, their bodies are still developing, and should probably be only butting heads with similarly-aged opponents. In gymnastics, participants act alone, so if someone's 16, 14 … hell, 8 years old, and they're good enough to qualify, then what's the harm? We've seen a few 12-year-olds compete in LPGA tournaments. A 14-year-old won a match at Wimbledon this year. And lest us forget Emily Fox's cup stacking world record was set when she was just a ripe 15 years of age.
It's a textbook case of "a stupid rule, but still a rule." Yet something tells me no other proof to the contrary will be found, no medals will be revoked, and the IOC's officials' concerns about age manipulation will probably be left without any verifiable way to prove someone's birthdate if a country is hellbent on tweaking official documents. (Despite my blog colleague Rob Iracane's idea: "Slice 'em open and count the rings.") So hopefully the IOC doesn't try to police something that can't be proven and instead lowers the age requirement for non-contact sports.
Tune in next time for the latest expose: "Local Citizens Fed Up With Traffic."Powered by Sidelines