Sports Outside the Beltway

North Korean gymnasts banned for teammate’s false age

Hong Su Jong had previously competed at events, including the 2004 Summer Olympics. From AP-

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.

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.

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.

It seems pretty dumb to me that the North Koreans thought they could slip a age change for Jong through without anyone noticing. All the publicity stemming from Chinese athletes at the 2008 Olympics have most likely made officials scrutunize age claims more seriously.

Was it fair to ban the whole team? I think so because it was North Korea’s responsibility to make sure of the age of its athletes. Jong’s prior history makes this look like a blatant effort at cheating.

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