A determined U.S. computer expert has delved into cached pages on the Internet to unearth Chinese official documents showing a gymnast who took gold in the uneven bars competition, edging the U.S.'s Nastia Liukin, may indeed be underage.
Controversy over whether He Kexin is under the minimum age of 16 has surrounded her participation in the Beijing Olympics. The latest challenge over the age of the tiny Olympian comes from the discovery through a cyberspace maze of Chinese official documents listing her date of birth.
She may not look as if she has reached the minimum competing age of 16, but China said her passport, issued in February, gives her birthday as Jan. 1, 1992. The International Olympic Committee said proof from her passport is good enough.
The latest unofficial investigation was carried out by computer security expert for the Intrepidus Group, whose site, Stryde Hax, revealed a detailed forensic search for He’s age.
First he simply tried Google, only to find that an official listing by the Chinese sports administration that had given her age could no longer be accessed. Then he tried the Google cache, only to find that He’s name had been removed.
Finally, he tried the cache of Chinese search engine Baidu. There, he found that Baidu lists two spreadsheets in He's name, both giving her date of birth as January 1, 1994 — making her 14 years and 220 days old and too young to compete at the Beijing games.
The lists were compiled by the General Administration of Sport of China.
Even before anyone arrived in Beijing, American media investigations accused China of fielding three athletes below the 16-year-old minimum age threshold. Bela Karolyi, the former U.S. head coach, then reheated the issue by claiming that China “are using half-people” and that their flouting of the regulations was so obvious that “these people think we are stupid.”
Liukin, who finished second to He in the uneven bars final would be elevated to the gold medal position should He be disqualified. Britain's Beth Twiddle, who finished in fourth place, would be elevated to the bronze.
“My real age is 16," He said when asked by journalists about the debate. "I don’t care what other people say. I want other people to know that 16 is my real age.” When asked how she spent her 15th birthday, she paused and then said: “I was with my team. It was an ordinary day.”
Just nine months before the Olympics, the Chinese government’s Xinhua news agency gave He’s age as 13. Officials have since dismissed that report, saying Xinhua had never been given her age and made a mistake.
“Much of the coverage regarding Kexin’s age has only mentioned ‘allegations’ of fraud, and the IOC has ignored the matter completely," said Stryde, who was later named by Information Week as Mike Walker. "I believe that these primary documents, issued by the Chinese state ... rise to a level of evidence higher than ‘allegation.’”
It could certainly make a difference to Britain's Tweddle, who at 23 and relatively old for a gymnast may not be able to compete in the 2012 Olympic games in London.