Gymnastics: Tweddle the loser as age doubts mar He's triumph

The British gymnast Beth Tweddle was a victim last night of the latest apparent faking scandal to hit these Games when she lost out on a medal in the uneven bars event because of a rival who should probably not have been competing at all.

A mounting body of evidence suggests that the Chinese gymnast, He Kexin, is too young to be in the Olympics. According to several official Chinese sources in the past, she is 14, and hence below the minimum age to take part. But she won the uneven bars last night, with Tweddle fourth.

The Chinese authorities now insist that He is 16, although at 4ft 8in and 5st 2llb she looks much younger. She has new documents "including a passport issued in February" which say she is 16, but no credible explanation has been given as to why her birth date was previously two years later than now.

References to her younger age have been wiped off computer systems. One online article in the China Daily state newspaper previously said she was 14. It has been changed to 16.

Tweddle, the 2006 uneven bars world champion, comes from Cheshire and trains in Toxteth. At 23, she is relatively ancient. None of the other seven finalists last night were older than 18. This might have been Tweddle's last Games, and in a sport where youth dominates, it was certainly her last realistic chance of an Olympic podium finish. If He had not been taking part, Tweddle would in all likelihood have won a bronze medal, at least.

Another of the medallists was another Chinese girl, Yang Yilin, who took third place behind He and America's Nastasia Luikin. There have also been doubts about Yang's age. The Chinese now say she is 16, as does her new passport. But registration lists at the sports body The General Administration of Sport of China – located and verified by US media outlets including the New York Times – previously gave her birth year as 1993.

Neither Tweddle nor Luikin wanted to make a public complaint about He last night. "I can only do what I do and not worry about the rest," Tweddle said. Luikin, 18, said: "I don't know how old she is but I do know that she gave a performance that merited her medal."

The issue of "age falsification" is not new in gymnastics. Minimum age requirements were introduced in the late 1990s because the sport was increasingly populated by young teenagers, with subsequent child welfare concerns. Gymnasts must now be 16 to enter the Olympics, or turn 16 in the calendar year the Games take place. There are lower limits in sports like diving, for example, because diving is not so thoroughly populated by children in the way gymnastics was.

The controversy over He has been bubbling since the Chinese named her in their team for the Games. Her age went from 14 to 16. Two official Chinese gymnastic websites "now blocked" previously gave He's birth date as 1994. Perhaps the most compelling evidence of He's real age is that she was cited as a 13 last November in a speech by a leading Chinese sports official, Liu Peng, when he was talking of her potential.

Yet when the New York Times presented this evidence to Chinese Olympic officials, the paper was shown He's passport, issued in February. Her date of birth is given as 1 January 1992. The International Olympic Committee will not investigate, saying the gymnastics governing body, the FIG, is responsible for age verification. The FIG says a passport is proof of age. And that, unfortunately for Tweddle, is that.

The Independent last night tried to speak to He in the "mix zone" and ask her age but she was quickly ushered away. Standing close up, three feet away from her at most, she does not even look 14, let alone 16. When The Independent tried to take a photograph, three officials blocked the view, briefly tried to take the camera, and then hurried He away.

There were no quibbles from Tweddle about her fourth-place score of 16.625. "Obviously I'm gutted but last Sunday I didn't think I'd even be competing [because of a rib injury] so I'm pleased just to make the final." Her mark would have been better, almost certainly good enough for a podium place, but for a messy dismount.

Prior to that, she had performed a splendid routine which was technically the most difficult of the eight on show. It elicited the loudest gasps of appreciation from a knowledgeable crowd.

"The dismount probably did cost me my place [on the podium]," she said. "My dismount is normally not a problem but I just didn't get enough height and to be honest I thought I was going to end up on my face."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor