The Chinese gymnasts could have picked out their leotards from Thumbelina's closet as they performed gymnastics in miniature on Wednesday. Wearing blue eye shadow with their hair pulled back,
Amid pre-Olympic hand-wringing over why the birthdates of He, Yang and Jiang didn't jibe with other registration materials that showed they might be as young as 14, China swore on its stars' passport stamps that the tots are the legal tumbling age of 16. But while the tiny trio helped their nation whisk the gold medal away from a suddenly clumsy U.S. group in the team competition, it was impossible to deny the
Just take a peek at the big lugs who stood next to the Chinese team. The U.S. squad is filled with women who are short to be sure, but with a curve to their bodies, muscle on their bones and driver's licenses in their wallets. This is gymnastics, so truth in aging is often blurred by a brutal sport laden with underdeveloped teens. With that context, did little He look sweet 16 in the eyes of other competitors?
"No, but then I don't look 20," said
Blame-shifting is easier for others. While Sacramone revealed grace, U.S. coach
This dental obsession must be a Karolyi family trait. Her husband,
The investigation into the mouths of babes has been far from intensive. Basically the international gymnastics federation agrees with the birth date evidence provided by Chinese officials. And that is that. The Olympic caretaker of fairness, the IOC, has stayed largely out of the debate, with its members ever cautious not to offend host China. They see blue skies when others see pollution. They distanced themselves from Olympian
This brushfire is not politics, though the IOC has acted as if it is. The age suspicion is a field of play issue. Any violation of the age requirements is an act of cheating, an issue that the IOC has always cared deeply about, particularly when it comes to doping.
"[Age] is a bigger problem than doping," Bela Karolyi said. "I think it's more cheating than doping. To look in the eye of everybody and to show up with a team underage? My god, it's not good."
No amount of Bela-aching is likely to alter the outcome. The last time IOC president
So do not expect a peep out of the IOC this time, no matter how angered American fans might be. If Rogge & Co. were ever going to stick their noses in this delicate case, it should have been last month when
"It's not an even playing field," Martha Karolyi said. She understands that China was the better team in the finals. She knows the U.S. sabotaged itself with missteps. But she is right. Age has a lot to do with what's level in gymnastic competitions. There is a mental advantage for youngsters who are clueless about pressure, unaware of what wobbles the burden to win can create. Maybe that was Sacramone's problem. She is a veteran at 20 -- ready for bingo in gymnastic years -- and old enough to know what one flawed moment can mean in a team competition. Halfway through the team finals, she came unglued. "My nerves got the better of me," she said.
The young seem immune to meltdowns. With Kool-Aid running through their veins, China's gymnasts were unflappable -- especially He in the uneven bars. What an edge she had at 4-foot-8 and 73 pounds, flitting through the uneven bars with jaw-dropping release moves, light as a dragonfly. The judges adored He, whatever her age.
"I don't want to make a comment on that," said
Gymnastics officials have dealt with it -- approving the age of China's gymnasts based on China-issued papers. The IOC blindly bought into this resolution, unconditionally devoted to China, seeing no need to doubt its flying Thumbelinas.