The story is one which the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was hoping would fade out of the news cycles quickly. For the most part, it has. One of the controversies of the Beijing Olympic Games was the age of female Chinese gymnasts. Registration records of He Kexin, Yang Yilin and Jiang Yuyuan showed that the age of these gymnasts was fourteen years old. The Olympic regulations state that a female gymnast has to be sixteen in the year that the Games takes place. A competitor younger than that is ruled ineligible.

The Chinese government countered any arguments that the gymnasts were underage by providing documentation. Chinese government issued passports showed that the three competitors were sixteen years old.

This proof, however, did not put the controversy to rest. Instead, it fostered speculations of a wider conspiracy involving the Chinese government.

Science could solve this controversy easily. Child development medicine and criminal forensics could accurately pinpoint the ages of these competitors. All that would be necessary would be x-rays.

The science of charting developmental growth is fairly sophisticated. It has examined both normal growth patterns and growth disorders. The data pool is extensive and has been used in forensic science. The bone development and teeth structure have been examined across variables such as sex, race, gender and even global location. The data collection has been extensive and covers generations. There are developmental data for Chinese girls and women.

From a scientific perspective, there is enormous differences between a fourteen year old and a sixteen year old. The bones and teeth x-rays would tell the story. Science could settle the controversy easily and expediently. A panel of medical and forensic experts would be able to come to agreement about the data. There may be differences of opinion but that would involve a few months – not years.

Nevertheless, it is unlikely that this scientific resolution will happen. The Chinese government would not subject their athletes to such close scrutiny. The Olympic hosts are insulted that there is a controversy. For them, the matter is simple – their female gymnasts won. The International Olympic Committee faces the inevitable possible task of calling the host nation and its government “cheats”. It would taint the Beijing Olympic Games, damage international relationships and impact upon future Olympic movement. It is understandable that the International Olympic Committee is not treating the resolution of this age matter as one of its priorities.

Catherine Forsythe