North Korean gymnasts banned, will miss world championships for teammate using false age

Thursday, October 7, 2010

NKorean gymnasts banned for teammate’s false age

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — North Korea’s gymnasts have been suspended from the world championships starting next week because one team member’s age had been falsified.

The International Gymnastics Federation said Thursday it provisionally suspended North Korea’s federation and gymnast Hong Su Jong for 30 days, ruling them out of the worlds — being held Oct. 16-24 in Rotterdam — and any other international or national event.

North Korea — which entered four women, including Hong, and two men to compete at the worlds — can appeal to the FIG within five days.

The FIG’s disciplinary commission met Wednesday and noted that Hong’s entry for the worlds had her birth date as March 9, 1989.

FIG documents show that she competed at the 2004 Athens Olympics and the 2006 worlds using a birth year of 1985, and won the silver medal on vault at the 2007 worlds using 1986. American Alicia Sacramone was the bronze medalist on vault in 2007.

If Hong was born in 1989, she would have been ineligible to compete in Athens. Gymnasts must turn at least 16 in the calendar year of an Olympics to be eligible.

“The USA has always played very correctly and followed the rules. We would be very happy to see other countries doing the same thing,” said Martha Karolyi, coordinator of the U.S. women’s team. “From time to time, it’s frustrating to see some people are not playing by the rules. I’m very happy the FIG stands up and is trying to track down these mistakes.”

Age falsification has been a problem in gymnastics since the 1980s, when the minimum age was raised from 14 to 15 to help protect still-developing athletes from serious injuries. The minimum age has been 16 since 1997.

North Korea was banned from the 1993 worlds after the FIG discovered Kim Gwang Suk, the 1991 gold medalist on uneven bars, was listed as 15 for three years in a row.

Earlier this year, the International Olympic Committee stripped China of its team bronze medal from the 2000 Sydney Olympics for using an underage gymnast.

That case followed an investigation by FIG into unproven claims that some of China’s gold-medal team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics could have been as young as 14.

The governing body now requires all junior and senior gymnasts who represent their countries at most international meets to have a license that acts as proof of their age for their entire career.

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