Friday, August 22, 2008

Just How Old Are Those Chinese Gymnasts?




Numbers have been very important in the Olympic Games. The number 8 is the luckiest number in the Chinese lore, so it was considered fortuitous to start the Olympics at exactly eight minutes after eight on 8/08/08. 16, 11, and 14 have been important, too. Some of the members of the Chinese women's gymnastics team look like they're about 11, they're supposed to be 16, and some documents say they're 14.

The American press and gymnastics team have been outraged about the fact that the Chinese team may have lied about the age of some of its members. Olympic gymnasts must be at least sixteen (or turn sixteen during the year of competition). Theoretically, it is easier for younger women/girls to perform some of the gymnastic routines, so it's not fair for someone under sixteen to participate against those who are sixteen or older. But we shouldn't jump to conclusions. Just because, on the average, the Chinese gymnasts weigh 77 pounds doesn't mean they're under sixteen. Maybe they just don't like milkshakes.

However, going by earlier Chinese publications, at least three of the athletes are only fourteen. But according to their current passports, which determine Olympic eligibility –- surprise, surprise --everyone on the Chinese team is at least sixteen.

So, are the Chinese cheating? Are some of these gymnasts really younger than they say they are? And if so, why are people so outraged?

The possible lying about their ages seems a much smaller "crime" than how these kids are treated. They are spotted as possible gymnasts at an early age, and taken from their families to a training center where they live and work at becoming good enough to represent their country. So, why aren't the American critics lashing out about this?

Well, the American coach, Martha Karolyi happens to be married to Bela Karolyi. He was the Romanian who coached Nadia Comaneci and later, Mary Lou Retton. In the Sixties and Seventies, he pioneered the system in Romania in which young girls were chosen for their athletic potential and then trained at a boarding school. Sound familiar?


Before I go any further into my in-depth investigation, let's talk about numbers again. Dara Torres astonished the world with her medal-winning swimming at the remarkable age of 41. Now, remember when I said that some of the Chinese gymnasts look 11, claim to be 16, but might be only 14? Well, if you add 11 plus 16 plus 14, you get 41. And how old is Dara Torres? 41. Coincidence? Yeah, probably.

Okay, back to the possible age-cheating. If they are lying about their age, it's going to come back to haunt them. They're not going to be so happy when someone throws them a 30th birthday party when they're only 28.

However, a rule is a rule, and cheating is cheating. If those Chinese girls are under sixteen, they shouldn't be participating. But the Olympics don't have age-testing. Athletes can be tested to make sure they're of the gender they claim to be. They're tested for drugs. But how do you test them to prove how old they are?

Don't worry. I've come up with the definitive test for determining if female gymnasts are too young.

A contestant is too young...

if she needs someone else to add up the scores for her.

if she thinks the tooth fairy brings Gold Medals.

if her best "floor exercise" is crawling.

Or if she doesn't wear diapers anymore – except at night.

Okay, that takes care of the future. But what about the women/girls on this year's Chinese gymnastics team? How will we ever know how old they really are?

Maybe we have to return to Chinese numerology. Michael Phelps won 8 Gold Medals. 8 is the luckiest number. Then maybe 8 is the best age for a gymnast. 8? Could that really be their age? It seems awfully young for them. But is it any harder to believe than 16?









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