By David Bandurski — China’s female Olympic gymnastics team is now coming under intense pressure as evidence mounts that champion gymnast He Kexin (何可欣) is below the age of eligibility for Olympic competition in the event. The evidence against He’s eligibility includes online news coverage by China Daily and the official Xinhua News Agency, which Chinese officials are now saying is inaccurate.
But as Berkeley’s China Digital Times has noted, a number of Chinese newspaper articles last year and early this year reported He’s age as 13. In trying to build a credible case for the gymnast’s eligibility, Chinese officials will find themselves denying a series of independent Chinese news reports.
We’ll begin with the official Communist Party mouthpiece, People’s Daily, which reported on November 3, 2007 (possibly the same source as the online Xinhua News Agency article) that “13 year-old He Kexin” successfully completed an uneven bar routine of high difficulty.
The article appeared at the top of page 7 of that day’s edition of People’s Daily, under the headline, “Cooly Awaiting the Achievements of our Newcomers.”
[Page 7 of the November 3, 2007, edition of the official People's Daily, with article reporting He Kexin's age as 13.]
The first two-thirds of the People’s Daily article in Chinese follow, the last paragraph including the sentence about He’s age (highlighted in bold):
Just five days after the People’s Daily report, a separate news feature appeared on page 19 of Tianjin’s Jin Wan Bao introducing up and coming Olympic stars.
[Page 19 of the November 8, 2007, edition of Jin Wan Bao.]
He Kexin was included among the list of 10 athletes to watch, the first line identifying her clearly as “13 year-old competitor He Kexin.” The following is a close up of the right-hand section of that article:
Less than a month later, on December 2, 2007, the commercial Beijing Evening News reported independently that He Kexin’s age was 13. The report, which bears the byline of journalist Liu Xiaoxing (刘晓星) and does not come from Xinhua, begins:
As the Olympic Games draw closer, China’s gymnastics team has begun active preparations for competition, and coach Zhang Peiwen (张佩文) says the men’s team’s old leader Li Xiaopeng (李小鹏) has returned to form, and that the female team has reconsolidated its strength on the uneven bars, with 13 year-old junior team member He Kexin possibly to become the secret weapon at the Olympics.
The article repeats further down: “The ‘secret weapon’ Zhang Peiwen refers to is recently emerged star He Kexin. This 13 year-old junior team member can not only complete a [difficult manouever/"李娅空翻"], but displays a steadiness in performance inconsistent with her age.”
On January 22, 2008, the Legal Evening Post, a spin-off of Beijing Youth Daily, a newspaper published by the Beijing chapter of the Chinese Communist Youth League, ran an interview with one of China’s gymnastics coaches. The run-up to the Q&A read:
“Don’t rush yourself. Wait ’till your cough is settled and then do [your routine]!” This reporter observed practice on the balance beam at the training facility as 13 year-old junior team member He Kexin prepared for her routine and was suddenly interrupted by a fit of coughing . . .
By March, everything seem to change. All at once, Chinese-language news reports on China’s Olympic gymnastics team, including one from Beijing Daily on March 8, 2008, were no longer talking about “13 -year-old junior member He Kexin” but about “15 year-old junior member He Kexin.”
“How Old Are the Chinese Female Gymnasts?” ESWN, August 15, 2008
“The Chinese Gymnasts: Age Questions Remain,” TIME, August 13, 2008
“Scandal of the Ages,” David Flumenbaum, Huffington Post, August 14, 2008
“One More Olympic Secret: How Old is He Kexin?” China Digital Times, August 14, 2008
“The Olympic’s Age-Old Problem,” Dan Wetzel, Yahoo! Sports, August 15, 2008
[Posted by David Bandurski, August 15, 2008, 3:15pm HK]