He Kexin's age controversy

Is she really 16-years old or 14-years old?

The International Olympic Committee has ordered the International Gymnastics Federation to start an investigation into mounting allegations that Chinese authorities covered up the true age of their gold-medal winning gymnastics star because she was too young to compete.

An IOC official told The Times that because of "discrepancies" that have come to light about the age of He Kexin, the host nation’s darling who won gold in both team and individual events, an official inquiry has been launched that could result in the gymnast being stripped of her medals.

The investigation was triggered as a US computer expert claimed today to have uncovered Chinese government documents that he says prove she is only 14 - making her ineligible to compete in the Olympics - rather than 16, as officials in Beijing insist is her age.


He Kexin (middle), Yang Yilin (right): From this photo, I would believe that Yilin looks 16, but not Kexin.


Link to the cached document showing He Kexin to be born on January 1 1994

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Honestly, it is hard to tell. It was funny enough when we were seniors in college and remarking that freshman students in every subsequent class seem to be getting younger.

I really believe that if you show a picture of He Kexin to a person who never saw her, telling that person that He looks 16-years old may draw a skeptical look.

As such, we have a Chinese government-issued passport attesting that He is 16 years old, born on January 1 1992. A US computer expert has allegedly found Chinese government documents issued by the General Administration of Sport of China stating that He's birthdate is January 1 1994.

Of course, a passport is one type of identification. A birth certificate is another. School information, medical information too. But if everything else is on electronic media, one can argue that such information can be changed. It would seem that paper copies are still needed to ensure the proper type of authentication is in place.

But I figured that for Chinese olympic athletes, they are pretty much attending camp and training centres maintained by the government so such information would be carefully controlled.

Has her competitive history be thoroughly checked? Has every newspaper article about He Kexin been researched? All the way back to 2007? 2006?

How would this controversy end? Neither side will be happy regardless of the result.

It's too bad there is no easier way of finding out a person's age. No way for doctors to check He's blood and find out her true age?

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Update 8/22:

Obviously, China coach Lu Shanzan stated that He's parents are "indignant" over persistent questions about their daughter's age.

"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? Why are their children suspected? Their parents are very angry."

In an interview with The Associated Press, Lu said Asian gymnasts are naturally smaller than their American and European rivals.

He said the governing body of gymnastics was given additional documents Thursday night to try to dispel lingering questions. Those documents included He's current and former passport, ID card and family residence permit. Lu said the documents all say she was born in 1992, which would have made her eligible to compete. Gymnasts must turn 16 during the Olympic year to be eligible.

So finally, we get more documentation. I really believe that all of this should have been given to the Gymnastic Federation and IOC to put the allegations to rest. Well, you could not blame us for not trusting the government. With the way the Chinese government controls access to information, how can we truly believe what they say is true?

China's own Yang Yun, a double bronze medalist in Sydney, said during an interview aired on state broadcaster China Central Television that she was 14 during the 2000 Games. Is that false? Or perhaps Yun was not fully trained on what to talk about during the interview?

If He's age is 16, then she would not be able to qualify for local and regional sports competitions where parents are known to "brush" their children's ages in order for them to be eligible to compete. We do not know exactly how their entire sports bureaucracy is run.

A Chinese blogger has a very different take, translated here (but has been taken down). He argues that in fact the birth dates in question in those documents from the GASC website may be incorrect, but that they intentionally made the gymnasts look younger so they could participate in certain domestic competitions.

So what if He was really 16, but in her domestic competitions, her age was 14. Yep, it would refute allegations about her Olympics qualification, but it will show that Chinese parents are known to change birthdays of children, to older or younger, in order to compete in local competitions.

Link to Stryde Hax: Olympic Hacking

Update 8/25:

As reported by the New York Times, Cui Dalin, the vice minister of the General Administration of Sport of China, said He Kexin, the uneven bars Olympic champion, had moved from one team to another last year, and a wrong birth date was written on the registration forms for the new team.

Before these Games, the international gymnastics federation, known as F.I.G., and the International Olympic Committee checked the passports of the Chinese gymnasts and judged them to be accurate. But the I.O.C. last week asked the F.I.G. to investigate the gymnasts’ ages further.

Chinese gymnastics officials have since given F.I.G. passports, national identity cards and family residence permits of five of the six members of the Chinese team. The only one exempt from the probe is Cheng Fei, 20, China’s most decorated gymnast.

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I really doubt the new information would satisfy the skeptics. We may never know the true age of Kexin He. Hackers may have the cached data from Google and Baidu, but there is no other concrete data to completely refute the Chinese government position. I am talking about official government documents (in paper!).

But honestly, should there still be an age requirement for gymnastics? Yes, it was put in there to prevent abuse, but how can it be truly enforced? Also, the age rule is not standard for every Olympic sport.


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Posted by: Hello
Posted on: August 26, 2008 06:03 AM

Why would anyone believe an American hacker who just looked at google caches...
That isn't valid at all.
THe fact is: CHina provided correct documents. This should be the end of story.


Posted by: James (Author)
Posted on: August 26, 2008 06:32 AM

True, China provided all the necessary documentation, but with the government controlling access to information, there is no independent vertification. In the past, China is known to block out information that is deemed a threat to national security and social order.

But we know that in the past, Chinese parents have often blurred the age of their children so they can participate in local and regional competitions, and this practice has been accepted as normal regardless of government policy.

This is why we cannot take China's evidence at face-value. It needs to be analyzed and scrutinized. This is not our fault but the fault of the Chinese government for their overzealous control of information.


Posted by: ??????
Posted on: August 28, 2008 06:00 AM

Man I guess not only China, How about USA? Japan? WWII? Nanking Massacre? JFK? Most Government try to control to certain things!Oh Great especially ages! LOL.


Posted by: Steve
Posted on: September 23, 2008 06:59 AM

This whole thing kinda reminds me of when the Americans in the Vietnam war shot loads of innocent people just because they would not look their interrogator in the eyes. If something doesn't look the way they think it should then they must be guilty....

You have to doubt what they said. Is this not the same country that covered up the contaminated milk until the Olympics was over?

James, according to FIG's 10/1 announcement He et al are exonorated of the charge.

BTW, the family registry and birth certificate came from the athelet's parents, not the Chinese government.


Posted by: Kim Murphy
Posted on: July 2, 2009 11:40 PM

I can't even imagine what this has been like for He Kexin. No matter what the truth, I can't imagine the scrutiny she is facing and the stress she must be under. This entire situation is really sad, but especially for He Kexin.

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