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China stripped of 2000 gymnastics medal for underage athlete

Chris Chase
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China was stripped of a team all-around bronze medal from the 2000 Sydney Olympics on Wednesday because it fielded an underage gymnast. Dong Fangxiao was discovered to be 14 at the time of those Games, two years younger than the minimum age requirement.

The medal will be given to the United States team which finished fourth in Sydney. The IOC has asked for China to return the medals "as soon as possible" so they can be reallocated to the U.S. team.

The action comes 20 months after China was accused of doctoring the ages of at least two of its gymnasts at the Beijing Games. Those allegations became a focal point of the 2008 Games but were quickly hushed up by the IOC after it cleared China following a sham investigation which basically consisted of the Olympic governing body asking China if they were really, really sure that the gymnasts were of age. When China said "yes" and produced passports and ID cards, the IOC dropped the matter, seemingly content to let the controversy pass and not risk offending its Olympic hosts.

Forget the fact that media reports and security experts found Chinese government documents which said 2008 team member He Kexin was 14 years old and not 16. Forget that asking China to produce documents proving its innocence would be like replacing drug tests with a simple questionaire in which athletes are asked whether they've ever doped or not. And, now, expect the IOC to forget that Dong had proper documentation at one point too, documentation which was clearly forged.

Dong was caught because somebody slipped up and printed a different birthdate on her credentials for Beijing. Instead of being born in on Jan. 20, 1983, as was claimed in Sydney, Dong's listed birthdate was Jan. 23, 1986. On her blog she says she was born in the Year of the Ox, which would fit with the Jan. 1986 birthday.

The International Gymnastics Federation looked into the allegations following the controversy in Beijing and recommended to the IOC that China be stripped of its medal from 2000 because of Dong's participation. The organization did so Wednesday at a board meeting in Dubai.

This action only happened because the evidence was so overwhelming that the IOC had to act. They didn't seek out the truth, it was thrust upon them. As the organization showed in Beijing, if it had its druthers, it would have swept this under the rug long ago.

Just because China cheated in 2000 doesn't necessarily mean those gymnasts were under 16 in Beijing. It does, however, lead to a lot more questions and should reopen the inquiry. Knowing the IOC, don't hold your breath.

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