He’s too young to be in the Olympics?

He helped China win a gold medal in team gymnastics. He's a favorite to win an individual gold medal.Gymnasts
He's part of a big controversy at the Beijing Olympics.

But this really isn't about him. This is about her: the female gymnast named He Kexin.

He is officially 16 years old, looks like she's 11, but is actually 13, going on 24. Or something like that.

Apparently there's a rule that Olympic gymnasts have to be at least 16. And all this time, I was under the impression that there was a rule that Olympic gymnasts have to be under 16. You mean to tell me that some of these girls are over 16? A couple of them look like they'd be good playmates for my daughter Lekha, who happens to be 6.

Former U.S. gymnastic coach, Bela Karolyi, 65, whose wife, Marta, "coordinates" the U.S. team, has been ranting incessantly about the ages of the Chinese gymnasts on TV, calling them "half-people" and looking a little like a "half-idiot."

The issue has received more attention from the U.S. media ever since China won gold in the women's little girls' team competition and America had to settle for silver. The Associated Press has uncovered evidence that He's actually 13:

Just nine months before the Beijing Olympics, the Chinese
government's news agency, Xinhua, reported that gymnast He Kexin was
13, which would have made her ineligible to be on the team that won a
gold medal this week.

In its report Nov. 3, Xinhua identified He
as one of "10 big new stars" who made a splash at China's Cities Games.
It gave her age as 13 and reported that she beat Yang Yilin on the
uneven bars at those games. In the final, "this little girl" pulled off
a difficult release move on the bars known as the Li Na, named for
another Chinese gymnast, Xinhua said in the report … [Link]

She was the right age for the Cities Games, but then the Olympics came around and, like a lot of youngsters in the world, she found herself too young for the bars.

The Chinese government apparently decided to falsify her age on her passport, but forgot to send her to a cosmetic surgeon for "age-enhancing" treatment. She could have really benefited from some reverse Botox.

Age falsification is not uncommon in gymnastics. In a 2002 interview, Daniela Silivas, a member of the Romanian team in the 1980s, said, "One of the
officials of the Federation told me 'Look at the passport, from today
you're not 13 years old anymore but 15.' Nobody asked me if I agreed to
this, I was just a child. They needed gold medals and everybody who was
involved in gymnastics knew about these practices.

Considering that he once coached the Romanian team, Bela Karolyi probably knows a thing or two about age-falsification. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if he's several years older than 65.

Given the chance, few gymnasts would complain about their ages being falsified. They'd rather compete in the Olympics than sit at home playing with their Barbies.

When it comes to going for gold, nobody really minds being old.

If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through Amazon.com and McNallyRobinson.com You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.

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