To Dawes, Chinese age flap needs to bring change to gymnastics

Maggie Hendricks
April 30, 2010

Three-time Olympian Dominique Dawes (pictured in 1992) and her teammates from the 2000 Olympics were awarded a bronze medal 10 years after the games in Sydney ended because a Chinese competitor was underage. Though she benefited from the rule stating Olympic gymnasts must be 16 or older.

"If someone can qualify for the Olympic Games at 13 or 14 years old, and they're talented enough and mentally strong enough, they can handle the pressure, I really feel they should be able to compete for their country," Dawes told Fourth-Place Medal.

Dawes would know better than most. She competed -- and medalled -- in three Olympics, first taking the Olympic stage when she was 15 (before the rule was enacted) and competed for the final time at 23.

She says that the training demands are already in place before a young woman hits the age when she is allowed to be in the Olympics.

"As an Olympic, female gymnast, you're already training such intense hours at 11 or 12 years old, why if a girl can qualify at 14 would you take that away from her? Having younger people who are talented and mentally strong enough could be an asset for many countries."

After the ruling that awarded the U.S. team the bronze whle stripping the Chinese of their medals as well as the age controversy that surrounded the 2008 Chinese team, Dawes believes that both the international gymnastics governing body (FIG) and the International Olympic Committee need to reexamine the age requirement, the process of proving a competitor's age, or both.

"I think they're going to take a better look at the rule, or find a better way to confirm a person's age. It's somewhat embarrassing, so they're going to try to avoid this in the future."

Winning the bronze 10 years after competing made Dawes wonder if the 2008 women's team, who won silver in in a tight team race with China, will get gold medals in the future.

"You never know. If you would have asked me if 10 years after the 2000 Olympics, I would have never imagined that I would be getting a bronze medal 10 years removed. Better late than never, but hopefully the federation and the IOC will look at this rule, and determine if its a good rule for the sport, and/or they find out the way to determine the legitimate age of someone competing prior to stepping into the Olympic arena."

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