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Hacker unearths young Chinese gymnast scam

Underage and under the radar

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A search engine hacker has uncovered fresh evidence that the Chinese women's gymnastic team cheated by fielding underage competitors.

Doubts surfaced even before the competition that as many as half the members of the six-strong team - who won China's first ever team gold medal at the Beijing Olympics last week - are far younger than the minimum age of 16. He Kexin, Jiang Yuyuan and Yang Yilin were all too young to compete, AP reports.

AP based its reports on registration lists filed by Chinese authorities in the years 2004 to 2006. Subsequent media reports have mentioned articles by Chinese official press agency Xinhua.

Much of this information has since been pulled by Chinese authorities, but enterprising hackers have found digital remnants of incriminating files.

Search engine hacker Stryde Hax has unearthed copies of official registration documents by Chinese sporting authorities (the General Administration of Sport) that show the age of a Chinese double gold medal winning gymnast to be 14 - two years younger than the age that appears on her government-issued passport. The Excel files, purged by censors from the official site and from Google's document cache, were found in the document translation cache of Chinese search engine Baidu.

Stryde Hax's findings (here) reveal that He Kexin, who won individual gold on the uneven bars as well as a team gold, was born on 1 January 1994 (rather than 1992, as per her official passport and birth certificate). Under competition rules introduced to protect youngsters, gymnasts must be aged 16 during the year of an Olympics in order to be eligible. Younger girls have more flexible bodies, giving them an unfair advantage.

All this ought to be the focus of an investigation by the International Olympics Committeee or the gymnastics governing body; but such is the desire of both to avoid doing anything to offend their Chinese hosts that it's very unlikely anything will happen.

Questioned about the age controversy, IOC President Jacques Rogge said it wasn't its role to check up on the age of athletes. "The IOC relies on the international federations, who are exclusively responsible for the eligibility of athletes," Rogge said. "It's not the task of the IOC to check every one of the 10,000 athletes."

The minimum age for gymnasts was raised from 14 to 15 in the 1980s, then to 16 in 1997. Issues of age falsification aren't new; North Korea, Romania and China have all fielded underage competitors in the past, AP notes.

Olympic games medallists Gina Gogean and Alexandra Marinescu of Romania and Sydney Olympics double bronze medalist Yang Yun of China all competed under the eligible age, they have since admitted. North Korea was kicked out of the 1993 world championships after it was discovered that had listed a gold medallist at the previous games as being only 15 for three years on the trot.

Stryde Hax (the nom-de plume of Mike Walker, a principal consultant for the security outfit Intrepidus Group) said he doesn't have strong opinions about the age limit for gymnastic competitions, and simply undertook his investigation out of intellectual curiosity. He adds that he has nothing against the Chinese people either.

"While I may disagree with the effort the Chinese government is making to conceal this young woman's age, I have the utmost respect for the Chinese people," he writes, "and I believe that united they will be able to make state-sponsored censorship a thing of the past." ®

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