The Ages Of The Chinese Gymnastics Team Members Shouldn't Matter At The Rio Olympics
The average age of a gymnast on Team China at the 2012 Olympics, for example, was about 19.5 years old. While it's amazing that these incredibly talented, athletic young women happen to be so young, the reporting of their ages have also been the source of controversy. For the third Olympics in a row, the Chinese gymnastics team has been accused of allegedly falsifying its members' ages, even though its website lists each member of the team as being 16 or older. But, in reality, the Chinese gymnasts' ages shouldn't matter.
According to a rule put in place in 1997, Olympic gymnasts are required to be at least 16 years old, or set to turn 16 within the calendar year. Before the '97 regulations were implemented, gymnasts only had to be 14 years old to compete. In order for a gymnast to compete at this year's Olympics in Rio, he or she had to have been born before January 1, 2001. Those requirements have been shirked in the past — most notably by the Chinese team — leading to some questions about the ages of the Chinese gymnasts competing this year.
In 2008, the Chinese team allegedly included a gymnast whose age should have disqualified her from the competition. According to the Associated Press, Xinhua — a Chinese-government-run website — had previously described Chinese gymnast He Kexin as one of the country's "10 new big stars" and reported that she turned 13 on Nov. 3, 2007. The report was later inaccessible. A later story in China Daily stated her age as 14, then issued a correction changing her age to 16 the following day.
Then in 2010, it was discovered that bronze medalist Dong Fangxiao, who had competed at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, had lied about her age — she was only 14 years old during the games, putting her two years below the threshold. Dong and her teammates was stripped of their medals, which was then given to the American team.
"The only way to stop this [falsification of ages] is to take off the age limit," renowned gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi said in 2008. "Take it away. We would have some amazing young athletes on our team, too, but they missed it by a few months. To force honest countries to hold back and allow other countries, not so honest, to push them forward, it's not fair."
With an average age of 17, the Chinese team competing in Rio is nearly two years younger than their Team USA counterparts, whose average age is 19 years old. The Chinese gymnasts' petite figures and youthful faces — coupled with their home country's past gymnastics controversies — has arisen suspicions as to whether the Chinese gymnasts are as old as they say they are. However, questioning a woman's age — or for that matter, anyone's age — because of the way their body looks is not okay.
I'm not by any means an Olympic athlete, but I've dealt with people who think my face and body make me look younger than I actually am. I'm 21 years old, but I've been regularly turned away from bars because I supposedly am "too young" to be there. Sometimes, looking younger than you are has its perks, but more often than not, it also leads to a loss of credibility, both personally and professionally.
Now imagine how much harder that must be for an athlete who's spent the majority of her life training for the Olympic Games. Although past instances of age falsification among Chinese gymnasts lend some veracity to the allegations against Team China's roster from previous years, there's no proof that anyone on the Chinese team has lied about their age this time around. In other words, it's time to let those suspicions go and embrace Team China's accomplishments instead of fixating on its members' ages, which have already been clearly stated.