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Golden gymnasts not fazed by age allegations
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As China's women's gymnastics team basked in the glory of winning the country's first team Olympic gold medal, the young gymnasts took the opportunity to remind the world that they are old enough to compete.

He Kexin performs at the women's gymnastics team final at the Beijing Olympics yesterday.

He Kexin performs at the women's gymnastics team final at the Beijing Olympics yesterday. 

"I am 16 years old and I cannot control what others are saying," said He Kexin, China's specialist on the uneven bars who has been dogged by, allegations that she is too young to compete in the Olympics. "My real age is 16 and what others say does not affect me."

Weeks before the Beijing Games, some international media outlets raised questions about the ages of some of the members of China's gymnastics team, particularly He and Jiang Yuyuan, an all-around Olympic medal contender. They said the girls might be younger than 16, the minimum age to be eligible for the Olympics.

But the Chinese Gymnastics Association quickly provided copies of the gymnasts' ID cards and passports, proving they are indeed old enough to compete.

In yesterday's final, He gave a clean performance on her favorite uneven bars, earning the second-highest score on the apparatus, after falling from the bars during qualification.

"Although I fell down in the qualification, I became more confident today to make up for my mistake, and I finally made it," He said.

With consistent performances from every gymnast, the Chinese women finally made it onto the highest podium at the Olympics, beating the reigning world champion US by 2.375 points.

It was a great moment for head coach Lu Shanzhen.

"Our team made history today and proved to the world that we are the best," the coach said. "While choosing the roster for the finals, we took into consideration all the accidents that may happen. The gold medal is not only for the gymnastics team, but also for the whole Chinese delegation at the Beijing Games."

Their men's counterparts also won the team gold on Tuesday.

Chinese women failed to win a single medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics. The team's comeback began in 2006 when it claimed its first world championship in Arhus, Denmark, narrowly edging the US by 0.85 points.

The coach attributed the team's rebound to a series of reforms.

"After the failure at the Athens Games, we reviewed our past training program carefully and decided to make some reforms," Lu said. "The Chinese team used to train a lot, but competed less, which led to poor results in international competitions. To improve their ability to compete and to strengthen their psychological power, we sent more team members to compete abroad so they could bring a competitive spirit back to the team.

"All six gymnasts in the Olympic team final were selected from fierce competition, and they proved themselves today."

The victory also made Lu more confident in the future of gymnastics in China.

"Today's final showed that gymnastics is a sport full of energy and excitement and it will be sure to arouse more people's interest in it," Lu said.

"I believe more children will join us to do gymnastics in the future, which will leave us a bigger reserve team. Chinese gymnastics will become even stronger in the future."

(Xinhua News Agency August 14, 2008)

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