|The latest birth date for North Korea's Hong Su Jong confirms she and her Olympic champion sister are twins, but that Hong Su Jong was ineligible for the 2004 Olympics.
The age of North Korean world medalist Hong Su Jong is under question, with the gymnast now being registered under three different birth years, including one that makes her ineligible for the 2004 Olympic Games.
On the entrant list for the 2010 World Gymnastics Championships and on the FIG website, Hong's birthday is listed as March 9, 1989. However, she was previously listed as being born on March 9, 1985 and on March 9, 1986.
Hong's birthday was listed as March 9, 1985 at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, which was open to gymnasts born in 1988 and earlier. In Athens, Hong Su Jong finished 12th with the North Korean team and 50th all-around in qualification. She did not advance to any finals.
Hong's birth date was also March 9, 1985 for the 2006 World Championships in Aarhus, where she finished seventh on vault. At the 2007 World Championships in Stuttgart, however, her birth date was given as March 9, 1986. In Stuttgart, she won the silver medal on vault behind China's Cheng Fei and ahead of American Alicia Sacramone. Her sister, Hong Un Jong, finished fourth. Hong Su Jong also finished seventh on uneven bars in Stuttgart.
Hong Un Jong won the gold medal on vault at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Hong Un Jong and Hong Su Jong have long been suspected of being twins, with the nearly identical sisters sharing the same birthday of March 9. The latest birth date confirms they are twins, but that Su Jong was underage when she competed at the 2004 Olympics.
The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) banned the North Korean women from the 1993 World Championships because of inconsistent birth dates given for gymnast Kim Gwang Suk. Kim, who won the gold medal on uneven bars at the 1991 World Championships, was listed as being 15 in 1989, 1990 and 1991.
The question of age falsification arose again during the 2008 Olympic Games, with some accusing the Chinese team of competing with underage gymnasts. An IOC and FIG investigation of the 2008 team members confirmed their ages, and the Chinese women kept the team gold medal. However, the Chinese women's team from the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney recently was stripped of its bronze medal after team member Dong Fongxiao was found to have been underage during the competition.
In an effort to prevent age falsification, the FIG has instituted a license system for gymnasts. All gymnasts competing in age-group, junior and senior international competitions must have a valid license.
The FIG has yet to officially respond to IG's request for comment, with a press spokesman saying early Wednesday that he will look into the issue.
If the FIG determines Hong competed under a falsified passport at the 2007 Worlds and that no clerical error occurred, it could result in the North Korean being stripped of her silver medal on vault. If this happens, American Sacramone could receive the silver and Hong Un Jong the bronze. If the FIG determines Hong Un Jong also not eligible, the bronze could go to Brazilian Jade Barbosa, originally fifth place.
Steve Penny, president and CEO of USA Gymnastics, said the U.S. federation supports the FIG's efforts to ensure fair play.
"A fair field of play is important, and we support any efforts to make sure that all athletes have the opportunity to compete against athletes who meet all eligibility requirements as outlined by the International Gymnastics Federation's rules and regulations," he told IG Wednesday.
North Korean Hong Su Jong's changing birth date
Screenshots from world championships entry lists and FIG website