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Chinese 'underage' gold gymnasts cleared

  • Story Highlights
  • China's gold medal gymnasts cleared of competing while under age limit of 16
  • International Gymnastics Federation announces decision after investigation
  • Further doubt cast on members of the 2000 Chinese Olympic squad
  • IOC ordered probe after widespread claims that Chinese squad were too young
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(CNN) -- China's Olympic gold medal gymnasts have been officially cleared of lying about their ages.

Widespread reports claimed that gold medal winner He Kexin was only 14 years of age.

An investigation was launched after the Beijing Games over claims that several members of their women's squad were ineligible because they were not 16 in the year of competition.

But on Wednesday, the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) closed a near six-week probe saying that documentation provided confirms they were old enough to compete.

The inquiry had been called for by the International Olympic Committee who were concerned that the controversy undermined the results of the competition in Beijing. Video Watch tiny gymnasts work out »

China provided passports, ID cards and family registers for He Kexin, Yang Yilin, Jiang Yuyuan, Deng Linlin and Li Shanshan, all showing the girls were 16 or would turn 16 this year.

"We have received all we could possibly ask for," FIG secretary general Andre Gueisbuhler told Associated Press. "All of them confirm the age that they should be, so what can we do ?" he added.

The Chinese women's gymnastics team won a gold medal in a team competition in Beijing and five members won individual medals.

One of the challenges came from a blogger known as "Stryde Hax." The blogger claimed to have uncovered proof that He Kexin is only 14.

In Internet searches, "Stryde Hax" allegedly uncovered Web pages showing lists complied by China's General Administration of Sport that show a 1994 date of birth for He. That would make her 14 -- too young to compete in the Olympic Games.

CNN was not been able to independently verify the information, but snapshots of the Web pages appeared to back up the claim. Other bloggers joined the search and reported similar results.

The New York Times conducted its own investigation, producing similar results that seem to implicate He and two other members of the team. The Times uncovered a 2006 biography on He that lists her birthday as January 1, 1994.

But Chinese gymnastics coaches have stridently defended their team.

"Asians have different figures than people from the West, so that's what caused their suspicion," said Huang Yubin, head coach of the men's and women's teams, referring to media inquiries. "They shouldn't be suspicious."

It was not all good news for the Chinese gymnasts, with the FIG announcing that it would step up its investigation into the 2000 team which won the bronze medal at the Sydney Olympics, particularly Dong Fangxiao and Yang Yun.

Yang, who also won a bronze medal on the uneven bars in 2000, said in a June 2007 interview that aired on state broadcaster China Central Television that she was only 14 in Sydney

Dong, who was a technical official for the Chinese team in Beijing, allegedly provided documents for her credentials which indicated that she too must have been only 14 in 2000.

Gueisbuhler warned that legal and statute of limitation issues might hinder further scrutiny and sanctions against the 2000 Chinese team.

Underage gymnasts have been a problem since the 1980s, when the minimum age was raised from 14 to 15 to protect young athletes from serious injuries. The minimum age was raised to its current 16 in 1997.

North Korea was barred from the 1993 world championships after FIG officials discovered Kim Gwang Suk, the 1991 gold medalist on uneven bars, was listed as 15 for three years in a row.


Romania admitted in 2002 that several gymnasts' ages had been falsified, including Olympic medalists Gina Gogean and Alexandra Marinescu.

In women's gymnastics, younger teenage girls can have an advantage over older competitors due to their often smaller, more agile bodies and lighter frames.

Copyright 2008 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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