Chill, Shang Chunsong Is Old Enough For Rio, OK?

by Lauren Barbato

The age and appearance of Olympic gymnasts has long been a point of controversy. Since 1997, the International Federation of Gymnastics raised the age requirement for gymnasts competing in the Olympic Games to 16, and we've become used to seeing teenagers tumbling, flipping and vaulting in the Olympic arena every four years. But some of these pint-sized women look practically childlike, raising suspicions among coaches and viewers alike. Many have been questioning the age of Chinese gymnast Shang Chunsong during the Rio Olympics, but her age isn't important at this point: She definitely meets the requirement.

Chinese gymnasts have been at the center of Olympic controversies in the past. At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the gold-winning Chinese team, which defeated the USA team featuring Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson, was accused of using underage gymnasts. There were reports of one 16-year-old gymnast missing a baby tooth, and several others had mismatched ages listed on other sports registries. However, none of the allegations about the gymnasts' ages were proven.

Now, the Chinese gymnastics team is once again under fire for possible age violation. Chunsong, who placed fourth in the women's individual all-around final at the Rio Olympics, is just 4-foot-7-inches and has an incredibly young-looking face. But she's 20 years old — not the young girl everyone thinks she is.


Chunsong is just an inch shorter than Simone Biles, the 19-year-old Olympic all-around champion. But she's hardly the shortest gymnast competing at Rio: 16-year-old Brazilian gymnast Flavia Saraiva is just 4-foot-4-inches. While Saraiva's height has also sparked some speculation, her age hasn't been doubted like Chunsong's has.

Do we care so much about Chunsong because the Chinese gymnastics team has been ensnared in this controversy in the past? Maybe. There is also some racism tied into this. In 2008, Chinese coach Lu Shanzen told reporters following the team final:

It’s unfair that people keep saying the Chinese are too young to compete. If they think they can tell someone’s age just by looking at them, well, if you look at the foreign athletes, they have so much more muscles than the Chinese. They are so strong. Do you then say that they are doping?

It's a fair point. Women — especially female athletes — are all built differently. A female Olympic swimmer will look far different than a female gymnast, and no two gymnasts will look the same, either. Just compare Biles to Aly Raisman, who's a few inches taller and the "grandma" at age 22.

Let's give it a rest: Shang Chunsong is old enough for Rio.