VANCOUVER, British Columbia - China should be stripped of its bronze medal from the 2000 Olympics because one member of the squad has been found to be underage, international gymnastics officials said Friday.
Dong Fangxiao was 14 during the Sydney Games, according to an investigation by the International Gymnastics Federation. Gymnasts must be 16 during the Olympic year to compete.
“Young gymnasts cannot be manipulated,” FIG president Bruno Grandi said. “Athletes must be protected.”
A second gymnast on the 2000 squad, Yang Yun, also was suspected of being underage. But there was insufficient evidence her age had been falsified, and the FIG said it was giving her a warning.
The FIG has “cancelled” all of Dong’s results from Sydney and forwarded its investigation to the International Olympic Committee. Because the case involves the Olympics, it is up to the IOC to decide if China should lose any medals.
The IOC has said previously it would take “necessary measures” if any gymnasts were found to be underage.
“We can confirm that we have received the ruling from the FIG in the case concerning Dong Fangxiao and Yang Yun, and we take due note of their decision,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said. “Clearly, we need to take time to consider the findings before the Executive Board can consider the matter. We would like to thank the FIG for their work and we would refer further inquiries to them.”
The United States was fourth at the Sydney Games.
“I’m happy to know that justice is being served,” said Dominique Dawes, a member of the 2000 squad. “There are rules in place and, if they are broken, there should be penalties.”
China must pay the costs of the investigations “for not having adequately controlled the birth dates of the gymnasts,” the FIG said. The investigation included two days of hearings in December at the FIG’s headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. Zhang Haifeng, the Chinese Olympic Committee’s press attache at the Vancouver Games, called the decision an “old story.”
“That was in 2000. Now is 2010,” he said. “This was 10 years ago.”
The U.S. Olympic Committee declined to comment. Steve Penny, president of USA Gymnastics, praised the FIG’s investigation.
“This is an extremely hard issue to try to address,” Penny said. “The FIG has done a very responsible thing.”
Questions about Dong and Yang’s eligibility arose during the FIG’s investigation into the eligibility of members of China’s team that won the gold medal at the Beijing Games. The 2008 gymnasts eventually were cleared after documentation was provided showing all six 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 accreditation information for the Beijing Olympics, where she worked as a national technical official, listed her birthday as Jan. 23, 1986. That would have made her 14 in Sydney — too young to compete. Her birth date in the FIG database is listed as Jan. 20, 1983.
Dong’s blog also says she was born in the Year of the Ox in the Chinese zodiac, which dated from Feb. 20, 1985, to Feb. 8, 1986. Dong has not denied that, but she declined to answer any questions about her age, telling The Associated Press, “I’ve left the gymnastics team.”
Yang, who also won a bronze medal on uneven bars in 2000, said in a June 2007 interview that aired on state broadcaster China Central Television that she was 14 in Sydney.
“At the time I was only 14,” she said in the interview, done in Chinese. “I thought that if I failed this time, I’ll do it again next time. There’s still hope.”