The girls of China's 2008 gymnastics team made up perhaps the most controversial team at the Beijing Olympics with their "oh no, they cannot be 16 years old" faces and physiques. Four years later, the Chinese team heading to the London games are, in gymnastic terms, basically elderly. It's common for Olympic gymnasts to be no older than the Olympics' minimum age limit of 16, but the Chinese team heading to London has an average age of 19.5, according to Geoffrey A. Fowler's story in The Wall Street Journal. Four years ago team member Deng Linlin was missing a tooth, leading some to speculate that she was not indeed 16. Now — back on the team — she's reportedly 20 years old.
If you've forgotten, here's what happened in 2008: The questions started even before the games. In a July New York Times article from that year raised questions about the ages of He Kexin and Jiang Yuyuan whose passports said they were 16, but who other reports pegged as 14. As the team won the gold medal, questions remained. Yang Yilin joined He and Jiang with a Chinese sports registration list online saying she was underage, and there was that matter of Deng's tooth. An October 2008 report in CNN announced that they had been "cleared" of suspicion by the International Gymnastics Federation, but according to Diane Pucin, writing in the Los Angeles Times in March 2009, the federation's president Bruno Grandi had been reported as saying in an interview there was "strong circumstantial evidence" that we all had been had.
There was precedent too, as this summary of the controversy on a Times blog notes: the 2000 bronze medal team had their medals revoked because of an underage member.
Now Deng is a definite squad member International Gymnast Magazine Online explains, while He and Jiang are two of three girls seeking the fifth spot on the team. (The others will be alternates.) All three girls are 20, according to Fowler, but if those reports were right Jiang and He would be just 18. The youngest girl on this year's team would still be Yao Jinnan, who Fowler reports is 17.
Which means, regardless of the ages of the 2008 athletes back for another go around, the team is still technically kind of old. But they aren't alone. Three U.S. 2008 veterans — Nastia Liukin, Bridget Sloan, and Alicia Sacramone — are competing for spots on their team at the trials this weekend, the San Jose Mercury News reports. They are all in their early 20s, and are facing 16-year-old stars Jordyn Wieber and Gabby Douglas.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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