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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 28, 2010

Olympics: China expresses regret over gymnastics punishment

Associated Press Writer

BEIJING China expressed regret at a decision by international gymnastics officials to recommend stripping an Olympics bronze medal won 10 years ago after the athlete was found to be only 14 at the time, saying there was insufficient evidence.

The Chinese Gymnastics Association said it reserved the right to further explain and to appeal the decision and said it has been cooperating fully with the international gymnastics officials in the investigation.

On Saturday, the International Gymnastics Federation on Saturday "canceled" all of Dong's results from the 2000 Sydney Games and recommended that the International Olympic Committee strip the Chinese of their medal.

"We believe that to date, there is no sufficient evidence to prove that there were problems with Dong Fangxiao's age in 1999 and 2000, therefore we feel great regret toward the FIG's punishment decision," the Chinese association said Saturday.

The Chinese Gymnastics Association has been "constantly strengthening and perfecting the administration of gymnasts ... and will strictly check every detail on the gymnasts' part," the statement said.

Another Chinese gymnast, Yang Yun, who won a bronze on uneven bars, also was suspected of being as young as 14 in Sydney, but there was insufficient evidence to prove her age had been falsified. FIG, instead, gave her a warning.

Questions about Dong and Yang's eligibility arose during the FIG's investigation into the eligibility of the Chinese team that won the gold medal at the Beijing Games. Media reports and Internet records suggested some of the girls on that team could have been as young as 14.

The FIG cleared the Beijing Games gymnasts in October 2008 after Chinese officials provided original passports, ID cards and family registers showing all of the 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 results from the 1999 world championships, where China won a bronze medal and she was sixth in the all-around, also will be wiped out, the FIG said.

Age falsification has been a problem in gymnastics since the 1980s, after the minimum age was raised from 14 to 15 in an effort to protect young athletes, whose bodies are still developing, from serious injuries. The minimum age was raised to its current 16 in 1997.