The International Olympic Committee has launched an investigation into allegations that Chinese authorities covered up the true age of gold-medal gymnastics star He Kexin because she is too young to compete, the London Times reports.
An IOC official told The Times that "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 — have prompted an inquiry that could result in the gymnast being stripped of her medals.
The investigation was triggered by a U.S. computer expert's claim Thursday that he had uncovered Chinese government documents that he says prove she is only 14 — making her ineligible to compete in the Olympics — rather than 16, as Chinese officials insist.
Mike Walker, a computer security expert, told The Times how he tracked down two documents that he says had been removed from a Chinese government website. The documents, he said, stated that He’s birth date was Jan. 1, 1994, making her 14. Her passport shows Jan. 1, 1992, as her birthdate.
He’s true age has been a subject of swirling controversy since the Olympic Games began. Questions over her eligibility intensified after she edged out U.S. gymnast Nastia Liukin for the gold medal in the uneven bars on Monday, and was part of China's team gold triumph last week.
The minimum age for female gymnasts was increased from 14 to 15 in 1981, and up to 16 in 1997, to protect the physical and mental health of young athletes.
Nadia Comaneci was 14 when she won her fist Olympic gold medal in 1976. Yet despite her stardom, there were criticisms that young girls were being pushed too hard at an age when their bodies and bones were still growing, causing permanent damage.
There were also concerns about their mental health, because of the pressure of competing on the world stage at such a young age, and that they were vulnerable to exploitation and even physical abuse by coaches.