More Evidence of Underage China Gymnasts

Search engine technology may uncover something China wants to keep hidden.

Aug. 25, 2008— -- The Beijing Olympic Games are over, but the questions continue over whether some medal-winning Chinese gymnasts were too young to compete under Olympic rules.

Mike Walker, the blogger who last week unearthed documents apparently showing that Chinese gold medal gymnast He Kexin was underage, Sunday posted information suggesting that He's teammate, Jiang Yuyuan, was also too young to compete.

Along with He, Jiang helped China capture its first-ever women's gymnastics team gold.

Last week, Walker, under the blog name "Stryde Hax" posted copies of what appear to be two online registration lists from earlier competitions that listed He's birth date as Jan. 1, 1994.

Walker, a computer security professional who works for New York-based Internet security firm Intrepidus Group, said the documents he found last week were once on the Web site of the General Administration of Sport of China. Although the documents themselves are no longer available online, Walker used Chinese search engine Baidu's caching tool to view the information.

A cache is a temporary storage area that duplicates and collects information that is indexed by a search engine. Even if the original information is deleted, a copy can continue to exist in the cache.

A government-issued passport and identity card state that He is 16 years old, according to documents provided by the Chinese federation to the International Gymnastics Federation.

But if the documents Walker unearthed are accurate, He would be 14 -- that's two years too young to compete under Olympic rules.

Since publishing the material on his blog last week, Walker said his site had been bombarded with comments from Internet users in the United States and China.

Walker said an anonymous source e-mailed him a link to another document still posted on a Chinese government Web site that appears to show that gymnast Jiang Yuyuan was also too young to compete in the Olympics.

Walker conceded that he cannot verify the authenticity of the new document.

"There is a possibility that this government document isn't real, but what are the possibilities of getting a forged document on a government Web site?" he asked, adding that the document is posted under the Chinese government domain

Walker said his tip came from someone within China who directed him to a registration list from a Chinese provincial sports administration Web site. According to this list, he said, Jiang's birthday is Oct. 1, 1993, which means she would turn 15 this October.

Although the registration list is still available online, Walker said the information pertaining to Jiang is too deep for search engines to find. Jiang's information appears in the 11,279th row but, according to Walker, search engines don't search beyond the 10,000th row.

For months, news reports and Olympics' Web sites have raised questions about the ages of the Chinese gymnasts. On Friday, the International Olympic Committee asked the international gymnastics federation, known as the FIG, to investigate the ages of the Chinese gymnasts in light of potential information that at least one of them was underage.

On Sunday, The Associated Press reported that IOC president Jacques Rogge said paperwork appears to support China's claims that all six members of its gold medal women's gymnastics team were old enough to compete in Beijing.

According to The Associated Press, Cui Dalin, China's deputy sports minister, said discrepancies surrounding He's age were the result of a paperwork error.

The International Olympic Committee did not immediately respond to requests for comment from about the new information on Jiang Yuyuan's age.

Public interest in Walker's discoveries has centered on the age of the gymnasts and the possibility of fraud perpetrated by the Chinese government. But Walker said he hopes his efforts will cause people to think about the implications of electronic documentation.

"I think this is a fantastic demonstration of where our future is headed. Electronic documents are totally different from paper documents. It used to be that changing documents could be traced. Now we've got this brand new world where e-documents are being accepted and used as common currency, but they're not verifiable. There's no standard of proof," he said.