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North Korean Gymnast's Age Under Dispute
(9 votes, average 4.44 out of 5)

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

Comments (24)add comment

Elizabeth Booth said:

Elizabeth Booth
...
I feel sorry for the gymnast, who probably has little choice about what information is put forward about her in official documentation.

But what use is a registration system that does not automatically pick up these anomalies? The FIG fail once more to get to grips with a nutty problem.
 
September 30, 2010
Votes: +3

Nonamer said:

0
...
I feel for her as well, but rules are rules, and if the investigation proves that birthdates were falsified, her results should be declared null and void.
 
September 30, 2010
Votes: -1

Nonamer said:

0
Sacramone could collect two medals
Wow, if the 2008 results were nullified - Chusovitina would move up to gold, Cheng Fei to silver and Sacramone to bronze. If the 2007 results were nullified, both Korean girls would be disqualified, and would move Alicia to silver and moving Jade Barbosa from 5th to bronze. Either way, this whole thing is ridiculous. They need to either improve the way they track ages or drop limits altogether...otherwise we're going to have a constant parade of medal redistrivution ceremonies. It will kill the sport in terms of credibility. FIG, do something now!!
 
September 30, 2010
Votes: +0

Tanya said:

0
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I don't know how this would affect Hong Un Jong in 2008. It appears her age has always been consistent. I think it would only affect Hong Su Jong in 2007. If they took her medal, it would give Alicia the silver and Hong Un Jong the bronze! LOL!

Yet more proof the FIG is not capable of enforcing age rules.... GET RID OF THE AGE LIMIT!!!!!!!!!!!!
 
September 30, 2010
Votes: +1

Nonamer said:

0
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I don't know if I like the idea of dropping the age limit altogether, but I would support LOWERING the age of eligibility slightly. My fear is that in countries that North and South Korea, and possibly even Romania, they would be rolling out 8 and 9-year-olds barely out of diapers. Not only is that wrong, but the name "women's" gymnastics would no longer apply. Instead, we would have nothing more than a bunch of tiny acrobats - basically a circus without elephants and trapeze. Any hope of restoring elegance and the importance or choreo would be gone.
 
September 30, 2010
Votes: +1

Stacy said:

0
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I don't think we would see 9 years olds, but more likely 13 or 14 year olds. I think age 14 is fine for senior competition. If you're the best, you're the best. What difference should it make if you're 14 or 16?

And for the last time, artistry has NOTHING to do with age!!!!!!! Russia's Anastasia Grishina has one of the most beautiful floor routines today, and she is still a junior.
 
September 30, 2010
Votes: +0

Nonamer said:

0
...
I think 14 would be acceptable. No lower. But I disagree that age has nothing to do with artistry. Grishina is the exception, not the rule. Overall, very young gymnasts are highly lacking in artistry and expression.
 
September 30, 2010
Votes: +1

Frank Hui said:

Frank Hui
...
Actually this scandal would have absolutely no bearing on her 2007 results and beyond. She would have been 16 at the time she got her silver medal in Stuttgart. She wouldn't lose them. In fact she would have kept them even if she was 15 at the time since she would have been 16 during the olympic year. The only things that would get adjust would be her results from 2006 and earlier. However North Korea as a nation could be penalized again like they were back in 1993. They should be penalized if the FIG is serious about cracking down on such things
 
September 30, 2010
Votes: +3

Nonamer said:

0
...
I think that any country found to have falsified ages should be banned from the next World Championships or Olympics. That would get their attention.
 
September 30, 2010
Votes: +1

Tanya said:

0
...
it would have an effect because if her birthday is 1989, she competed under fake papers in 2007.
 
September 30, 2010
Votes: +1

Stacy said:

0
...
I agree it's not the fault of the gymnast at all. It's the fault of the federations. But they know they can get away with it. The stupid part is that they kept changing her birthday!!! I don't understand this! Didn't they learn from Kim Gwang Suk? But it's kind of funny because it's so obvious they're identical twins.

The FIG should get rid of the age rule because not only is it impossible to enforce, the FIG constantly looks stupid because of cases like this.
 
September 30, 2010
Votes: -1

Triplefull368 said:

0
...
If her birth year is 1989, she was 18 in 2007. Therefore, no matter if her age was listed incorrectly, she should not lose any results. This also has no bearing on Hong Un Jong, as one commenter suggested, whose birth date has never been listed as anything other than March 9, 1989.
 
September 30, 2010
Votes: +0

Stacy said:

0
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I think they should take her medal in 2007 as punishment, and because she competed under a false birthday then. It doesn't matter if she was age eligible, the federation was being deceptive! They were trying to creep her age up slowly probably to what it actually is. So stupid. And if they take her silver medal, they shouldn't give her sister the bronze, because then the same federation would benefit.

And they can't really fine them because North Korea has no money pretty much. The best thing they could do is prevent them from competing in FIG events until 2013. :-(
 
September 30, 2010
Votes: -2

Tanya said:

0
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Nonamer, Grishina is not the exception. There are plenty of gymnasts who prove artistry is possible, or impossible, at any age. Look up Olga Mostepanova in 1980 and 1981, or Nastia Liukin as a junior, or any Chinese juniors. In contrast take a look at Bieger or Memmel at any age. No artistry as juniors, and possibly worse as time goes on! Even Chusovitina, while an amazing athlete, isn't particularly artistic or graceful. She competes with maturity but she's never been artistic.
 
September 30, 2010
Votes: +0

Nonamer said:

0
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You cannot compare the artistry of today's gymnasts with those from the 1970s and 1980s. At that time, the COP was very different - dance and artistry were emphasized FAR more than they are now. Combine the current COP with a young gymnast, and you lack the complete package of artistry and tricks.
 
September 30, 2010
Votes: +0

Iana said:

0
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1980 or 2010, foundation of gymnastics training and dance instruction is the same. Excellent artistry is possible at early age with proper coaching and instruction. There are many 10 year old gymnasts with beautiful grace and artistry, and many 25 years old gymnasts with none. You can find on YouTube videos of young gymnasts from Russia, China, WOGA, GAGE, All Olympic gymnastics clubs with great artistry.
 
September 30, 2010
Votes: +0

Nonamer said:

0
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As I noted earlier, without changes to the COP, there is no hope. When you expect a 10-year-old to express artistry and grace when the COP does not reward that, they will fail. I stand by that.
 
October 01, 2010
Votes: +2

Amelia said:

0
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I don't like the age rule, but while it's on the books, it has to be followed. It's not the gymnast's fault that her federation did this, but it's extremely unfair to all of the other competitors and federations that have enough integrity to adhere to the rules.

I'd like to see the age limit back to 14, but in the meantime, this is going to keep happening until the FIG stops slapping federations on the wrist and starts handing out real punishment. This is cheating just as much as doping is, and there should be zero tolerance. All results under the fake birthdate should be nullified. The offending federations should be banned for the next two Olympic cycles. Put some real threats there so that federations won't keep doing this.
 
October 01, 2010
Votes: +2

Lora said:

0
license system
I don't understand what the license system is supposed to do or how it's supposed to stop age faking. Does anyone know?
 
October 01, 2010
Votes: +1

Amelia said:

0
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@ Laura: The licensing system is a joke. As per the FIG website, the only documentation needed to obtain a license is a passport. That's exactly the documentation that was needed to compete before. There's really nothing stopping a federation from submitting fake passports just as they've done in the past. It just gives the illusion that the FIG is actually doing something. The only thing the licenses seem to actually do is make it easier to keep track of the gymnasts and cross-register them with the anti-doping international agencies.
 
October 01, 2010
Votes: +1

Ana F. said:

0
Reply of gymnast's age issue
Unfortunately in a country like North Korea,the athlete is obliged
to falsify birthdates. Same thing happened to Daniela Silivas of Romania,
to romanian Alexandra Marinescu in the 90's and recently to a gymnast from
China who got her medal from the 2000 Olympics stripped. If this Korean
gymnast would have refused to change a birthdate who knows what the
government would have done to her and her family. She is at the mercy of
the gov.
There is a lot of trouble in the horizon for her now. What saved Silivas
and other gymnasts that have had this problem is that they retire and
later they confess that they were told by the federation to lie.
If Hong Su Jong has the chance to say that in a Western country she should
tell the truth.

 
October 01, 2010 | url
Votes: +0

KP said:

0
...
Age really doesn't have a whole lot to do with it. What difference does it make how old you are if you have the skills to compete at senior level? All you have to do is look at the case of Comaneci. 14 and at the top of her game. She had both artistry AND skills (AND perfect form, which is more than I can say for most of todays gymnasts) Remember also that dance and artistry were way more important in the 70s and 80s; now especially on beam and floor, it's just the same cookie cutter connection skills as filler for the tumbling passes. I think maybe a secret reason for the age limit is that these very young girls' bodies simply cannot take all of the pounding necessary for the many repitions required to master extrememly difficult tumbling skills.
 
October 01, 2010 | url
Votes: -2

Nonamer said:

0
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You cannot compare Nadia with today's gymnasts. The skills required today are FAR more numerous and far more complicated, and the COP doesn't reward artistry.
 
October 01, 2010
Votes: +0

maggie said:

0
...
I feel sorry for her too! I am pretty sure that this is not her fault. I don't think that they even ask her for permission to change the documents.

poor her
 
October 03, 2010
Votes: +1

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