Thursday, April 29, 2010

My thoughts on the Chinese age controversy

I was asked by a reporter to weigh in. Here is what I said:


When something like this happens, I have mixed thoughts. I can see it from many different angles.

Firstly, I am happy that mistakes are being corrected. Fairness in sport is paramount. So that is good news.

But then I wonder if this is going to open a giant can of worms. It would not surprise me if there were other instances in the past where gymnasts ages have been falsified. If you can change the results of one competition, then does that mean its fair game to start digging for evidence to change all past mistakes?

I feel bad for the girls who competed; I wonder if they knew that their ages were falsified? I am pretty sure that they don't have to personally fill out the application forms like we do here in Canada. I think they have a team leader who does all of that paper work for them. The gymnasts job is to train and to focus on that. I wouldn't place blame on the athletes themselves.

Another argument could be; why does age even matter? If they were 14 and at a high enough level to make the team then why can't they compete? Platform Diving has a minimum age of 14. Gymnastics used to have a minimum age of 14. In fact, at the 1996 Olympics, Dominique Moceanu was 14 and no one said she was too young. I don't think Dom thought she was too young to compete at the Olympics either. Gymnastics is not a sport that sees a lot of female athletes peak in their late 20's. Maybe if the FIG really wants to make a statement then they could make the minimum age 18 or even 20 years old and then the safety of young athletes would really be the priority. But would gymnastics be the same? One of the allures of the sport is the fact that it's young people who are defying gravity. Would it be as appealing if everyone who was competing was old enough to drink a martini (in Alberta at least) after the competition? I know that some of the top girls in the world right now are 14 years old and the skills and routines they are performing are pretty close to what they will be aiming for in London 2012. Maybe making a rule that Junior age is U18 and Senior is over 18 would solve some problems?

I have also known of gymnasts who's birthdays were on the cusp of making the age requirement, but not quite close enough. I feel bad for the girl who has the potential to win in London 2012, but her 16th birthday is on January 1, day too late. 4 years is a long time to wait and train for your Olympic moment in the world of gymnastics. And does that 1 day really make that big of a difference? I guess it does when you are getting your drivers licence so the same applies when it comes to doing release moves 10 feet above a bar! :)

I also had a question about the licences that the FIG will be issuing. How are they going to enforce the age on those? Gymnasts do not look their age. Canadian Olympian and a good friend of mine, Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs was legitimately 18 at the Olympics in 2008. She looked 12 (no offence Elyse). How will they ensure that passports and birth certificates are not being falsified when they apply for the licence?

Onto another debate, and it's one that is possibly a little selfish, but admittedly popped into my head after I heard the news: I also wonder if this opens the door to start asking questions about other results that may have been tainted. What about the vault controversy that I was involved in in Athens when Marian Dragalescu fell and got the bronze when I ended up 4th? For a second; I can't help but wonder if the judges mistakes on vault in 2004 can now be reversed? The evidence is there. The judges were sanctioned. The score that Marian Dragalescu received was mathematically impossible. Should we start fighting for that bronze medal again? Is there any hope to have the decision reversed? Or is it something that should be kept peacefully laid to rest?

About gymnastics reputation being tainted because of this controversy: I don't feel like this story will tarnish the reputation of the sport at all. Gymnastics will continue to be one of the most popular Olympic sports after all is said and done. I think gymnastics fans appreciate the sport because of its beauty, skill and athleticism and not just because of the medals that are awarded at the end of a competition. The general public only tunes in every 4 years for the Olympics and gymnastics is so captivating that it's hard not to watch. Gymnastics, in my opinion, is a sport that can withstand controversy. In fact, I think every sport has something controversial about it. Gymnastics will always be entertaining to watch because it's makes the seemingly impossible look easy. It doesn't matter who you are, gymnastics is simply awe inspiring.

In conclusion, I say Congratulations to the FIG and the IOC for doing the right thing and taking action. But I think the real question is: Where do we go from here? This was a ghost that was resurrected from the past...are they willing to deal with all of the other ones that might come creeping out? And what can we do moving forward to ensure that fairness and safety continue to prevail in the future?


What are your thoughts?



Katie said...

Its fairly obvious that this has happened many times in the past- Gogean and Marinescu have admitted to competing underage in the past; it's likely that at least one of the members of Chinas 2008 team was underage.
The Federations should be sanctioned, not the individual gymnasts. Does anyone really believe that these girls are making the decision to deceive officials about their ages?? The coaches and team coordinators are responsible.

Anonymous said...

Age falsifying is nothing new and it will continue to happen just as long as countries who engage in c=the cheating are allowed to do it without any serious reprocussions. Considering how China treats their people on a general level its hard not to believe they'd do anything, including cheating, to be at the top of the medals table...especially at their own Olympics. What bothers me is how Yang Yun's age couldn't be verified either way and was just issued a "warning", as if that warning will have any effect. China will just get better at making sure their gymnasts don't spill the beans about their real age 8 years later when registering for a job. I watched an injured Dominique Moceanu in '96 and she is one of my favorite gymnasts but yes I do believe she was too young and look where he career went after that.

I personally think China should be suspended from the next Worlds, at least, just to show them that if they continue to falsify ages because they are unwilling to play by the rules there will be consequences.

Anonymous said...

While I do think it was right to re-distribute the bronze medal (although the length of time it took is incredibly ridiculous), I think I would rather see sanctions taken on the actual country. When it was discovered that Kim Gwang Suk competed underage at 1991 Worlds, her country was banned from major competition for a certain amount of time (although I don't recall how long or what competitions). I think that would send a MUCH more powerful message.

Lyra said...

There are many other instances of this. Kim Gwang Suk was proven by the IoC and the FIG to have been 11 at her first world championships. In 1991, she was 13. She did not get her gold medal revoked. neither did Daniela Silivas who won many golds that could be taken away.

Anonymous said...

I really think they should sanction the country or the gymnastics federation not the girls who worked hard for that medal and didn't have a say in the decision to change their age.

Anonymous said...

There are so many opinions.
I think the rules need to do what they were intended to do...protect the athletes. We all know that in order to be prepared for any gymnastics competition, the training is brutal...especially in China. The whole idea of the minimum age requirement was not to allow countries and coaches to push their athletes too hard. The skills are hard and brutal on the body. These young bodies are not strong enough to withstand such gruelling skills. We don't hear from these countries of the athletes left broken and tattered.
Unfortunately, left to self govern, some countries go through their athletes as a disposable commodity. It is up to the parent federations to step in an protect these athletes who don't have a voice.
So make the rules, enforce them, but always remember why they are there. If that rule needs adjusting, alter it.
Don't forget what the intentions make it safter for the developing athlete.