China should be stripped of its bronze medal from the 2000 Olympics because one member of the squad has been found to be underage, international gymnastics officials said yesterday.
Dong Fangxiao was 14 during the Sydney Games, according to the International Gymnastics Federation. Gymnasts must be 16 during the Olympic year to compete.
Another gymnast on the 2000 squad, Yang Yun, also was suspected of being underage after she mentioned on a television interview she was 14 in Sydney. But all of her documentation indicated she was 16 in Sydney.
The FIG has “canceled’’ all of Dong’s results from Sydney, and forwarded the results of its investigation to the International Olympic Committee. Because the case involves the Olympics, it is up to the IOC to decide if China should lose medals.
The IOC has said previously it would take “necessary measures’’ if any gymnasts were found to be underage. The United States was fourth at the Sydney Games.
Questions about Dong and Yang’s eligibility arose during the FIG’s investigation into the eligibility of members of China’s team that won the gold medal at the Beijing Games. The 2008 gymnasts were eventually cleared, but the FIG said it wasn’t satisfied with “the explanations and evidence provided to date’’ for Dong and Yang.
“We can confirm that we have received the ruling from the FIG in the case concerning Dong Fangxiao and Yang Yun, and we take due note of their decision,’’ IOC spokesman Mark Adams said. “Clearly, we need to take time to consider the findings before the Executive Board can consider the matter. We would like to thank the FIG for their work and we would refer further inquiries to them.’’
The FIG also wiped out Dong’s results from the 1999 world championships, and it’s making China pay the costs of the 16-month investigation “for not having adequately controlled the birth dates of the gymnasts.’’ The FIG also issued a warning to Yang, who will be allowed to keep her bronze medal on the uneven bars.
Dong’s accreditation information for the Beijing Olympics, where she worked as a national technical official, listed her birthday as Jan. 23, 1986. That would have made her 14 in Sydney - too young to compete. Her birth date in the FIG database is listed as Jan. 20, 1983.
Dong’s blog also says she was born in the Year of the Ox in the Chinese zodiac, which dated from Feb. 20, 1985, to Feb. 8, 1986. Dong has not denied that, but she refused to answer questions about her age, saying, “I’ve left the gymnastics team.’’
Yang said in a June 2007 interview that aired on state broadcaster China Central Television that she was 14 in Sydney. She later told the AP that she had misspoken, declining further comment.
The FIG’s three-person disciplinary commission spent 16 months investigating Dong and Yang’s cases. Besides providing documentation, Dong and Yang, along with their parents and two Chinese gymnastics officials, met with the commission for two days in December in Lausanne, Switzerland.
In Whistler and Vancouver, Olympic sentiment largely supported the players who went back onto the ice for an impromptu party well after the fans had left Canada Hockey Place on Thursday.
While the players spent much of yesterday apologizing, several top Olympic officials praised the Canadians’ third straight gold-medal run, even while encouraging them to be a bit more discreet next time.
“As far as we’re concerned, the matter is closed,’’ said Michael Chambers, president of the Canadian Olympic Committee. “It was nothing more than an error of judgment committed at the exciting time of winning a gold medal. It was a spilling out of the celebration that was going on in the dressing room.’’
The International Olympic Committee said it would send a letter to Canadian organizers asking for more details about what happened, but was careful not to characterize the response as an investigation.
Well over an hour after the Canadians beat the Americans, 2-0, and were given their gold medals, 14 players returned to the ice still in their uniforms. Some wore wacky sunglasses and smoked cigars, while almost all were drinking beer or champagne.
Marie-Philip Poulin, the 18-year-old hero of the gold-medal game with two goals, had a beer in her hand while she’s still a few weeks shy of the legal drinking age in British Columbia. The drinking age in Alberta, where the team trains, and her native Quebec is 18.
“At that moment, I didn’t even realize it,’’ Poulin said. “We’re really sorry, and it won’t happen again. We just wanted to enjoy the game and go back out on the ice.’’
That’s how many athletes have been disqualified for positive drug tests, testament perhaps to the deterrent effect of the most stringent anti-doping program in Winter Games history.
Out of nearly 2,000 planned tests, the only doping violation has been minor - a female Russian hockey player was reprimanded after testing positive for a light stimulant contained in a decongestant before the Games.
“There is nothing sensational to report,’’ said Arne Ljungqvist, head of the International Olympic Committee’s medical commission. “We are finding not very much indeed. It seems promising.’’
A few hundred more tests will be conducted over the final weekend, with those results known early next week.
Material from Bloomberg News was used in this report.