Monday, Nov. 03, 2008

Age-old Controversy

After gymnast Cheng Fei flipped across the floor and struck a final pose for the adoring crowd, a Chinese victory was assured. Of the host-country's world-best 51 gold medals at the Beijing Games, perhaps no other was as sweet, and controversial, as the women's gymnastics team win, its first in Olympic history. China had taken the world title two years before, with the U.S. wrestling it back in '07. The highly anticipated rematch lived up to its billing, though the U.S. failed to bring its A game. Alicia Sacramone fell during the floor exercise and balance beam, though she handled her disappointment with uncommon grace. But the sight of the tiny Chinese gymnasts, who appeared to be barely in puberty, heightened suspicions that they were using underage gymnasts. Working for NBC, ex-U.S. coach Bela Karolyi barked that the Chinese were "using half-people". Gymnastics officials investigated the allegations, which included some charges of multiple conflicting birth certificates, but they concluded that the girls were at least 16, old enough to compete. The U.S. got some measure of revenge in the individual women's events, when Nastia Liukin won the all-around and Shawn Johnson took the gold in the balance beam.