How Old Is Hong Un-Jong? This Olympic Gymnast's Age Has Stirred Controversy
At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, gymnasts from North and South Korea made headlines after posing for a selfie together. But Hong Un-Jong, the gymnast from North Korea, has also drawn attention for other reasons: namely, for being the number one vaulter in the world at one point. Un-Jong's career, however, has seen its fair share of controversy. After her sister Hong Su-Jong's age falsification controversy, gymnastics fans want to know: How old is Un-Jong?
The New York Times has reported that Un-Jong is 27 years old. She is either the younger sister or possibly the twin of Su-Jong, also a North Korean gymnast. During her career, Su-Jong reportedly listed three different birth years — 1985, 1986, and 1989 — in international competition documents. This generated controversy when she listed her birth year as 1989 during the 2010 World Championships, according to The Telegraph, which would have meant that she had actually been too young to compete in the 2004 Olympics in Athens. And if she really was born in 1989, that would make her Un-Jong's twin.
An investigation conducted by the International Gymnastics Federation led to a ruling in 2010 that as a result of Su-Jong's age falsification, North Korea would not be able to participate in international competitions until October 2012. Consequently, Hong Un-Jong was unable to return to the Olympics until this summer in Rio after previously competing at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Because of the age controversy, it is unclear whether Un-Jong — who became the first North Korean female gymnast in history to win an Olympic gold medal after nabbing the gold on vault in Beijing — has an older sister or twin sister. It doesn't seem to be controversial that Hong is in fact 27 years old, though, even if her sister's age is unclear. A book that was published in Pyongyang in 2014, called "Olympic Champions Who Bring Glory to the Motherland," also lists Hong's age as 27 in a profile of North Korean gold medalists.
This isn't the first time the topic of age falsification has surfaced at the Rio Games. The members of the Chinese women's gymnastics team had their ages questioned due to past controversies in which China fielded underage athletes to compete. In Hong's case, however, multiple sources have confirmed that she is indeed 27 years old, whatever her sister's age may be — and hopefully, the age falsification controversies in North Korea's Olympic history will stay in the past.