Mini-medalists face inquiry

Breaking news: The tiny children parading around in tights and flying through the air with the ease of babes are underage. What a shocker. This article, although outdated, from Selena Roberts of Sports Illustrated is probably my favorite on the subject of Chinese gymnasts. It is complete with quotes from the always-entertaining Bela Karolyi and his wife, Martha on the subject of “itty-bitty teeth.”

Although the age requirements of 16 have raised ire with a number of gymnastics supporters, few have showed such blatant disregard for the rules as the Chinese. A paper trail follows the limber He Kexin all the way to the Olympic podium where she received a gold medal on the uneven bars and the team competition. It doesn’t take a private investigator to raise questions about He’s youthful appearance and childlike fearlessness in the face of such pressure. But it did take one to uncover documents dating back from 2005 that listed He’s birthday as January 1, 1994.

While articles stating He’s age as 14 have conveniently disappeared from online sources, the registration documents from 2005, 2006, and 2007 remain. Yang Yilin, a double bronze medalist in the all-around and uneven bars, is also facing questions of underage acrobatics. What’s really sad about this whole affair are not the missing gold medals on the necks of American gymnasts, but the missing childhood for the Chinese.

The Olympics are about sacrifice, to be sure, but not child labor. And I think this qualifies. Between cases of child abuse and the thousands of people whose homes were destroyed to make Bejing “less crowded” for the Olympics, what kind of message the world is sending by having a host nation such as this?

While such a promotion to the Olympic stage could have spurred China on to improve its human rights record, the opposite has happened. The elderly are being sent to labor camps for requesting to protest. Journalists are being jailed. Activists are disappearing. All the while, the Olympic banner is waving.