By Gillian Wong
The Associated Press
BEIJING (AP) — China expressed regret at a decision by international gymnastics officials to recommend stripping an Olympics bronze medal won 10 years ago after the athlete was found to be only 14 at the time, saying there was insufficient evidence.
The Chinese Gymnastics Association said it reserved the right to further explain and to appeal the decision and said it has been cooperating fully with the international gymnastics officials in the investigation.
Last Saturday, the International Gymnastics Federation “canceled” all of Dong’s results from the 2000 Sydney Games and recommended that the International Olympic Committee strip the Chinese of their medal.
“We believe that to date, there is no sufficient evidence to prove that there were problems with Dong Fangxiao’s age in 1999 and 2000, therefore, we feel great regret toward the FIG’s punishment decision,” the Chinese association said Saturday.
The Chinese Gymnastics Association has been “constantly strengthening and perfecting the administration of gymnasts … and will strictly check every detail on the gymnasts’ part,” the statement said.
Another Chinese gymnast, Yang Yun, who won a bronze on the uneven bars, was also suspected of being too young in Sydney, but there was insufficient evidence to prove that her age had been falsified. FIG, instead, gave her a warning.
Questions about Dong and Yang’s eligibility arose during the FIG’s investigation into the eligibility of the Chinese team that won the gold medal at the Beijing Games. Media reports and Internet records suggested some of the girls on that team could have been as young as 14.
The FIG cleared the Beijing Games gymnasts in October 2008 after Chinese officials provided original passports, ID cards, and family registers showing that all of the gymnasts were old enough to compete. But the FIG said it wasn’t satisfied with “the explanations and evidence provided to date” for Dong and Yang.
Dong’s results from the 1999 world championships, where China won a bronze medal and she was sixth in the all-around, will also be wiped out, the FIG said.
Age falsification has been a problem in gymnastics since the 1980s, after the minimum age was raised from 14 to 15 in an effort to protect young athletes, whose bodies are still developing, from serious injuries. The minimum age was raised to 16 in 1997. ♦