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."

Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss