Thursday, August 21, 2008

Chinese gymnasts not legal, officially (sort of)

It seems a new blog called Stryde Hax has blown the cover off the Chinese gymnast age controversy. A brief summary to bring you up to date, in case you haven't been following:

The New York Times first reported that members of China's girls' gymnastics team -- the one that won Olympic gold -- may have been underage, two years below the legal limit. Documents were uncovered. They were deleted. Passports were reissued. Hullaballoo created. Cries of Western media bias. Jokes. The IOC didn't care.

Enter Stryde, who hacked into Baidu, which is Chinese Google, and found a cached spreadsheet showing gymnast He Kexin's real birthdate -- before it was changed and the documents made unavailable -- as 01/01/04, making her 14 years old. Check out Stryde's discovery (and screenshots) here.

In a second post, Stryde writes:

What is this post really about? I don't really feel that it's about the gymnastics age limit, or even really about whether fraud occurred. At this point, I believe that any reasonable observer already understands that age records have been forged. This story now is really about Internet censorship, the act of removing evidence while at the same time claiming that the evidence is wrong. For the first time I watched search records shift under my feet like sand, facts draining down a hole in the Internet. Will this stand?

An excellent point, if you ask me.

As for whether this is sufficient evidence for the IOC to take away the girls' medals, I'm not sure. It would be an absolute shame, but if it really is true that the Chinese team cheated, they deserve to get punished, especially since we're not just talking about the team but the Politburo, which had railed against cheating while imploring its athletes to "stay clean." This would be an embarrassment of monumental proportions.

I suspect, however, this story will fizzle in the coming days. The West always assumed the girls were underage anyway, and the Chinese... well, they're not going to find out about this. Not officially, anyway.

UPDATE, 8/22: From ESPN News Services.

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