Officials blame poor record keeping for latest questions about age
BEIJING (AP) ― Chinese skating officials are blaming poor record keeping for the latest questions about the age and eligibility of some athletes, including 2006 Olympic pairs silver medalists Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao.
The birthdates the Zhangs provided when they entered competitions were “real,” the Chinese Skating Association said in a statement Tuesday to the official Xinhua News Agency.
A list of birthdates published on the Chinese federation’s website and found by the Associated Press indicated that the Zhangs and at least six other skaters violated figure skating’s age limits by competing when they were either too young or too old. The birthdates on the federation’s websites differed from those listed on the athletes’ International Skating Union bios.
“We have reached the conclusion through investigation that (discrepancies) happened due to mistakes made during (the) information handing in, collecting and verifying process,” the Chinese Skating Association said in its statement to Xinhua.
The list posted on the Chinese association’s website had disappeared by Tuesday.
ISU rules require skaters to be 15 by the preceding July 1 to compete at an Olympics or senior world championships, and 14 for other senior-level international competitions. Junior skaters must be at least 13 the previous July 1 but cannot have turned 19 (singles) or 21 (pairs and ice dancers).
China’s Zhang Dan (right) and Zhang Hao perform during the World Figure Skating Championships in 2003. (AP-Yonhap News)
According to the records found by the AP on the federation website, Zhang Dan was born Oct. 4, 1987, meaning she would have been only 14 when she and Zhang Hao ― no relation ― competed at the 2002 Olympics and world championships. The Zhangs were 11th in Salt Lake City and ninth at worlds. Zhang Hao, meanwhile, was born on Feb. 6, 1982, according to his birthdate on the federation website. That would have made him too old to compete at the 2003 junior world championships, which they won.
But Xinhua said Zhang Dan was born on Oct. 4, 1985, while Zhang Hao was born on July 6, 1984. Those are the same birthdates listed on the Zhangs’ ISU bio.
The Zhangs went on to win the silver medal at the Turin Games and silvers at the 2006, 2008 and 2009 world championships.
Xinhua also said the Chinese federation “underlined its resolute opposition against age fraud” and promised to investigate further. Earlier Tuesday, Yang Dong, director of the figure skating department of China’s Winter Sports Administrative Center, told Xinhua “we’ll spare no efforts on probing” the discrepancies in the skaters’ ages.
The questions about the skaters’ ages arose less than a year after the IOC stripped China of its 2000 Olympic bronze medal in women’s team gymnastics for using an underage girl. That violation was uncovered during an investigation into age fraud by China’s team that won the gold medal at the Beijing Games. The 2008 team later was cleared after Chinese officials provided original passports, ID cards and family registers showing all the gymnasts were old enough to compete.
The ISU said Monday it was aware of the discrepancies and had asked the Chinese federation for more information. IOC president Jacques Rogge said Monday he was was unaware of the discrepancies in the figure skaters’ birthdates, but that “if there is a discrepancy it must be solved.”
The IOC and ISU were not immediately reachable for comment Tuesday.
Among the other skaters whose eligibility was in question were Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, the reigning junior world champions and bronze medalists at this year’s senior Grand Prix final. According to the list of birthdates on the federation website, Sui and Han should not have competed at either of those events, and also are ineligible for this year’s junior world championships, which begin Feb. 28 in South Korea.
Sui was born on May 7, 1997, according to the federation website, making her just 13. That would mean she was too young for both last year’s junior world championships, where she and Han were first, and this year’s senior Grand Prix series. Han, meanwhile, has a March 1989 birthday on the federation’s list, making him 21.
Figure skating imposed age limits in 1996 to protect young athletes from serious injuries. Pair teams, in particular, do high-risk elements including throw jumps, lifts and twists, where the female skater is tossed above her partner’s head.
The ISU has been strict with its age limits, refusing to bow to pressure when budding star Mao Asada missed the cutoff for the Turin Olympics by 87 days. Asada, who the silver medalist last year in Vancouver, had won the Grand Prix final that year, beating reigning world champion Irina Slutskaya.
The United States had to send its fifth- and seventh-place finishers to the 2008 world championships because U.S. champ Mirai Nagasu and runner-up Rachael Flatt were too young.