Olympics

No kidding: China stripped of gymnastics medal

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP)

China was stripped of a bronze medal from the 2000 Sydney Olympics on Wednesday for fielding an underage gymnast, with that women's team medal now going to the United States.

Beijing flashback

Hmm, where have we heard this before? Oh yeah, allegedly underage Chinese gymnasts were one of the biggest stories of the Beijing Games.
 
The International Olympic Committee acted after investigations by the sport's governing body determined that Dong Fangxiao was only 14 at the 2000 Games. Gymnasts must turn 16 during the Olympic year to be eligible.

Dong's results from Sydney were nullified in February by the International Gymnastics Federation. Because her scores contributed to China winning the team bronze, the FIG recommended the IOC take the medal back.

As expected, the IOC executive board upheld the request and formally stripped the medal on the first day of a two-day meeting in Dubai.

The U.S. women, who had been fourth, move up to the bronze. American team member Dominique Dawes said "justice prevailed."

The IOC said Dong was also stripped of her sixth-place result in the individual floor exercises and seventh place in the vault.

Fangxiao Dong

Dong Fangxiao was only 14 when she helped China take a team bronze medal at the 2000 Games.
Jed Jacobsohn

Calls to the Chinese Gymnastics Association and the media officers for the Chinese gymnastics team went unanswered late Wednesday. Dong now lives in New Zealand with her husband.

The IOC ordered China's national Olympic committee to return the team medals "as soon as possible" so they can be reallocated to the U.S. team.

The IOC also told the Chinese to "ensure, by all means, that the athletes and officials of its delegation comply with all rules and regulations (of the international federation) particularly with regard to age limits."

"Respecting the minimum age of our gymnasts remains a priority and I am committed to safeguarding the health of our athletes," FIG president Bruno Grandi said in a statement.

Questions about Dong's eligibility arose during the FIG's investigation into the ages of China's team that won the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Games. Media reports and Internet records suggested some of the girls on that team could have been as young as 14.

The FIG cleared the Beijing Games gymnasts in October 2008 after Chinese officials provided original passports, ID cards and family registers showing all of the gymnasts were old enough to compete. But the FIG said it wasn't satisfied with "the explanations and evidence provided to date" for Dong and a second gymnast, Yang Yun.

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Dong's accreditation information for the Beijing Olympics, where she worked as a national technical official, listed her birthday as Jan. 23, 1986. That would have made her 14 in Sydney -- too young to compete. Her birth date in the FIG database is listed as Jan. 20, 1983.

Dong's blog also said she was born in the Year of the Ox in the Chinese zodiac, which dates from Feb. 20, 1985, to Feb. 8, 1986.

FIG investigators didn't find sufficient evidence to prove Yang, who also won a bronze medal on uneven bars in 2000, was underage. She received a warning from the FIG.

The bronze medal salvages what had been a disappointing Olympics for the U.S. women. The squad -- Amy Chow, Jamie Dantzscher, Dawes, Kristin Maloney, Elise Ray and Tasha Schwikert -- left Sydney empty-handed, the only time since 1976 the American women had failed to win a single Olympic medal. The U.S. boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games.

Wednesday's decision gives Dawes her fourth Olympic medal. She won at least one medal at each of the three games she competed in and now has three bronze and a gold.

"I'm really just proud to know that justice prevailed," Dawes said. "I will say that I never imagined in all my years of gymnastics that, a decade after one of my Olympic Games, I'd actually get a medal possibly shipped to me in the mail. I'm thrilled."

Dawes also said she hopes the FIG investigation and IOC decision will mean the end of underage gymnasts.

"Hopefully the IOC and the FIG will have this more and more under control for future Olympic Games so there will always be fair competition," she said.

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