Xeni has the latest about the Beijing story that matters (no, not Bob Costas’ toup or 9 year old gymnasts…).
One of the controversies that’s been swirling around the Chinese Olympic Games since they began is the age of several of China’s gymnasts. According to Chinese officials (and, of course, official passports and ID cards), both He Kexin and Jiang Yuyuan are 16, and therefore old enough to compete in the Olympic Games. Unfortunately for China, there’s a growing body of evidence pointing in the opposite direction, including online evidence a gumshoe hacker discovered lurking in the cache of Baidu, China’s equivalent of Google.
If these allegations prove true, it would scarcely be the first time China has lied about the age of an athlete. In 2000—three years after the minimum qualifying age for Olympic Gymnastic competition was raised to 16—Chinese gymnast Yang Yun won a bronze medal for her performance on the uneven bars. Yang’s passport showed her as 16 years old at the time, but the gymnast herself later admitted on Chinese national television that she and her coaches had lied about her age, and that she had been just 14 at the time. There’s also evidence that Chinese gymnast Li Ya was just 13 when she competed at the World Championships in Anaheim back in 2003.
Now, new information gathered from Baidu’s cache further confirms these allegations. Over at Stryde Hax, the anonymous author describes his search for official information on He Kexin’s real birth date. Google, rather suspiciously, has been scrubbed clean—searching the engine’s cache reveals references to He Kexin, but He’s name and data have been removed. As for Baidu, the main search function returns only government-approved data—a spreadsheet that purports to show information on Kexin has also been deleted—but checking the engine’s cache proves that a copy of the document is still preserved. He Kexin’s age, as listed in the preserved copy of an official Chinese document? 14.
The IOC has refused to investigate this situation, claiming that it’s the responsibility of the Federation International Gymnastics (FIG) to verify the ages of competitors. The FIG verifies age by checking an official, government-approved passport. Whatever the passport says is what the FIG goes by, even if the girl in question barely looks 12, much less 16.
Legendary gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi noted that this sort of cheating has been a problem for years and cited the case of a girl the North Korean Gymnastics Federation listed as 15 for three straight years. As Karolyi told the NYT, “Oh, come on, she [the North Korean gymnast] was just in diapers and everyone could see that, just like some of the Chinese girls are now.” If you look close, you can see they still have their baby teeth. Little tiny teeth!”
When asked if the underage allegations could be proven, Karolyi doubted it. “The paperwork is changed just too good. In a country like that, they’re experts at it. Nothing new.” He, of course, would know—Karolyi developed the entire Romanian gymnastics machine that produced Nadia Comaneci and her 1976 perfect 10 scores, and coached both Romanian and, after his defection, American teams to championships.
Cheating isn’t unique to China, and it’s not unique to gymnastics—as Karolyi said, the problem has been embedded in the system for decades, partly because its easier for younger, smaller girls to handle certain types of physically difficult routines. The IOC’s lackadaisical attitude towards the situation, however, is befuddling, especially at a time when drug testing and anti-cheating measures are at an all-time high.
The apparently-incriminating Baidu cache also demonstrates the folly of attempting to rewrite history. While it’s possible to alter passports, birth certificates, and ID cards, digital data is much more difficult to zero out.
- Stryde Hax: “Hack the Olympics!“
- New York Times: “Records say gymnasts may be underage“
- David Flumenbaum, Huffington Post: “Scandal of the Ages: Documents Reveal Underage Chinese Gymnast” Flumenbaum’s article gives multiple, specific examples of how Chinese newspaper articles and official documents were altered to include He Kexim’s “new” age.
Stryde Hax link found via Slashdot
A story that ran Beijing Evening News on December 2, 2007, reported that He Kexin was 13, while the New York Timesturned up evidence in other Chinese papers that cited her age as 14, with a birth date of January 1, 1994. Currently, He’s passport lists her date of birth as January 1, 1992. Similarly, Jiang Yuyuan’s own national identification card lists her birth date as October 1, 1993.
A little more is here.
Our owners give a warm, very warm, yet chillingly oppressive welcome to the westerners….
Everyone listed here is still missing.– James Powderly
– Brian Conley
– Jeffrey Rae
– Jeff Goldin
– Michael Liss
– Tom Grant
They were all working in Beijing in different ways, as citizen journalists and activists. My opinion at this point is they are being held longer than other detained activists because they all had much more gear – macbooks, eee pc’s, HD video cameras, digital SLR cams… standard stuff in most places, but I can imagine it raises a lot of eyebrows to the authorities in China, especially when related to protests and Tibet.
We are in active touch with the US Embassy in Bejing the the US State Department… the big deadline we are just hitting 48 hours right now, so 24 hours left until the 3 day mark.
The activists who deployed the LED banner have all already been sent home, arriving in JFK right about now.
And below, word of additional, new detentions of a Tibetan-German activist and two others from the United States. Snip from SFT announcement:
Beijing – After intense surveillance by up to 50 plainclothes police, a Tibetan-German man and two pro-Tibet activists protested tonight near the Bird’s Nest stadium. The three raised their fists in the air, unfurled a Tibetan flag, and called out “Free Tibet” at approximately 12:05 am Beijing time. A fourth Tibet activist who observed the protest was detained by police at the scene. The four were taken away in a police vehicle and their whereabouts are unknown.The four are Tibetan-German Florien Norbu Gyanatshang, 30, American Jeremy Wells, 38, American John Watterberg, 30, and Briton Mandie McKeown, 41.
“Against all odds, a Tibetan has once again raised our outlawed national flag in Beijing tonight,” said Lhadon Tethong, the Tibetan-Canadian Executive Director of Students for a Free Tibet. “This action symbolises the determination and steadfast commitment of the Tibetan people and our supporters from around the world to achieve freedom and justice for six million Tibetans living under the brutal rule of the Chinese government.”
Tibetans and Tibet supporters have defied the best efforts of the Chinese authorities to silence all voices of dissent during the Olympic Games, staging eight protests in Beijing over the past two weeks. The protests have ranged from technically-challenging banner hangs to a dramatic “die-in” at Tiananmen Square. Surveillance efforts by Chinese authorities increased dramatically over the past few days.
“The Chinese government is petrified of these peaceful acts of defiance simply because they represent the true feelings of Tibetans inside Tibet,” said Tenzin Dorjee, Deputy Director of Students for a Free Tibet. “Our protests are a reminder to the world of the tragic reality of the Chinese government’s illegitimate occupation of Tibet and the urgent need for the Chinese leadership to seek a resolution with the Tibetan people.”
Lhadon Tethong, director of Students for a Free Tibet, quoted in this New York Times article:
[Tethong] said she was more concerned with the plight of protesters in Tibet. In recent days, she said, at least three people have reportedly been killed in the city of Ganzi after protesting on the street. She said one woman, Dolma Yungzom, was shot five or six times point blank after she unfurled a banner, though Ms. Tethong provided no evidence.
Watch video updates on FT08tv.
An update on the pro-Tibet tech-art protests happening in Beijing: Students for a Free Tibet (SFT) tells Boing Boing that a group of five pro-Tibet activists displayed an LED Throwie Banner near the Olympics site in Beijing. The protesters, all of whom are US nationals, were promptly detained by Chinese authorities.
From SFT, via email to BB:
This was inspired by GRL’s “Throwies” project, and the building and implementation of this was done by a complete separate group of Tibet activitists. They combined a traditional protest banner with over five hundred throwie lights and batteries sewn and taped onto the banner.Here’s a snip from the SFT press release about today’s action:
Five pro-Tibet activists unfurled a banner spelling out “Free Tibet” in English and Chinese in bright blue LED “throwie” lights in Beijing’s Olympic Park tonight. The five were detained by security personnel after displaying the banner for about 20 seconds at 11:48 pm August 19th. Their whereabouts are unknown. The detained activists are Americans Amy Johnson, 33, Sam Corbin, 24, Liza Smith, 31, Jacob Blumenfeld, 26, and Lauren Valle, 21.”The Chinese government is desperate to turn the world’s attention away from its abuses in Tibet as the Olympics take place, but the creativity and determination of Tibetans and their supporters has once again ensured that Tibetan voices are heard and seen in Beijing despite the massive security clampdown,” said Tenzin Dorjee, Deputy Director of Students for a Free Tibet. “The Chinese leadership must realize that the only way it can make the issue of Tibet disappear is to acknowledge the demands of the Tibetan people and work with them to bring an end to China’s occupation of Tibet.”
The lights used on the banner are blue 10 mm light-emitting diodes (LEDs) powered by small batteries, commonly known as “throwies.” Throwies are open-source technology attributed to OpenLab and Graffiti Research Lab, developed as a means of creating non-destructive graffiti and light displays. This is the first time ever that they have been used on a banner. James Powderly, free speech activist and co-founder of the Graffiti Research Lab (GRL), was detained in Beijing early this morning (see http://freetibet2008.org/globalactions/jamespowderly).
Details on the SFT website, Photos on Flickr, and here is a short video. “Still no more news on GRL founder James Powderly at this point,” a SFT rep tells us. Previous BB post on Powderly’s detention in Beijing, over 24 hours ago.