At least two and maybe three team members have been listed in online registrations at under 16 years of age, which is the minimum age for competition in women's gymnastics. Originally, the International Olympic Committee doggedly pursued the question by asking Chinese authorities how old the girls were. Chinese authorities said, "Old enough," and produced a number of official government documents that said pretty much the same thing.
But few people bought the idea that the He family welcomed 1992 with the birth of little Kexin, instead giving more credence to some Chinese sports association registries that, three years running, said the gold medalist greeted the world on Jan. 1, 1994 instead. The same problem shows up for Yang Yilin. Both girls obviously excel in their sport; He is the gold medalist on the uneven parallel bars and they helped their team to the team gold medals as well. The problem is that they're almost certainly under the age limit.
Now the IOC has asked Chinese gymnastics and sports officials to offer more proof the girls could really get driver's licenses, if only their feet reached the pedals. I'm not sure what that will mean. Since the Chinese government was gracious enough to provide passports and other documents officially approved by the Chinese government, I imagine the next step is asking Chinese President Hu Jintao (b. 1942) to pinky swear with IOC President Jacques Rogge (b. 1942) that He, Yang and the others are older than they look.
The Kafkaesque absurdity in the story is provided by Chinese women's gymnastics coach Lu Shanzhen (b. 1957). He notes the questions about their daughters' ages have made the parents indignant and angry. "Worried about what happens to us if we forgot a piece of paper somewhere that proves our kid's only 14" is, I guess, unspoken. On the up side, Chinese authorities are now known to care about the dignity of at least some -- not all -- of their citizens.
According to Coach Lu, the controversy is ridiculous because people are believing what's on websites instead of what's said by a government. I tried to think of a way to mock this statement, but sometimes people say things that are so absurd they are mockery-proof.
Coach Lu explained the problem we Westerners are having with this issue by pointing out that Chinese athletes are "by nature" that small, while European and American athletes like 4'8" Shawn Johnson (b. 1992) and 5'3" Nastia Liukin (b. 1989) are apparently "by nature" Amazonian behemoths. Coach Lu seems to have skipped the opening ceremonies, in which his nation's flag was carried into the stadium by the diminutive Houston Rockets center Yao Ming (b. 1980). I guess he's also never met the fragile Chinese women's shot putter Li Meiju (b. 1981).
Word is, though, that David Duke (b. 1950) would like to have a cup of coffee with him sometime to chat about this "by nature" business.