Olympics age-dispute gymnast living in Waikato

00:00, Oct 22 2009
GUIDING HAND: Controversial Olympic medallist Dong Fangxiao helps out Charleis Kingston-White, 8, with her flips at Huntly.
GUIDING HAND: Controversial Olympic medallist Dong Fangxiao helps out Charleis Kingston-White, 8, with her flips at Huntly.

One of the gymnasts at the centre of an Olympic controversy is now in New Zealand and is looking to further her coaching career in Waikato.

Dong Fangxiao, who was part of China's bronze medal-winning team in 2000 in Sydney, isn't assured of keeping her Olympic medal but is keen to help New Zealand gymnastics. She is now living in Hamilton after moving in June this year to study English at Wintec, following her husband Li Te, who studies at Waikato University.

But the International Gymnastics Federation is still investigating the eligibility of Dong and fellow Chinese gymnast Yang Yun at the 2000 Games, where they were thought to be underage.

Dong Fangxiao
OLYMPIAN: Dong Fangxiao performs on the uneven bars during the women's finals at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000.

Gymnasts must be at least 16 by the end of an Olympic year. Dong's official birthdate is listed as January 23, 1983, but the federation said accreditation information for the Beijing Olympics, where Dong worked as a national technical official, listed her birthdate as January 23, 1986, which would have made her 14 in 2000.

Questions about Dong's and Yang's ages arose during the federation's investigation into the eligibility of members of China's team that won the gold medal at the Beijing Games.

The 2008 gymnasts were cleared, but the federation isn't satisfied with the explanations and evidence provided to date for Dong and Yang.

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A disciplinary commission said last month it had yet to finish its investigation. If the gymnasts were underage, the commission could recommend sanctions to the federation's executive committee, which next meets at the end of February.

Li, whose English is much better than Dong's, told the Waikato Times that Dong was born in 1986 and turned 23 in January this year, making her underage at Sydney. But he said she was cleared of any wrongdoing and the "investigation has already passed".

Li claimed the move to New Zealand was purely because of study.

Other highlights in Dong's career include five gold medals at the 2001 Asian Games and a bronze at the 1999 world championships. Dong has been passing on tips to a small group of girls in Huntly, as well as coaching in Rotorua and Auckland, but wasn't able to nail a full-time role in Hamilton because of a lack of funding.

Li was hoping he could find work after finishing at university, so the pair could stay in the country. "We haven't decided whether we should go back to China or settle in New Zealand," he said. "If I can find a job, yeah, we will probably settle in New Zealand."

Dong is hoping to coach a regional team and the national team at some stage, and is also applying to do a sports science degree at Wintec.

Li said his wife had a lot to offer to the sport in this country.

"The gymnastics in New Zealand is not that mature compared with, for example, China, America, Russia and Romania.

"So she'll just try to correct them from mistakes and wrong movements.

"To be honest, at the moment she wants to do her best to improve New Zealand gymnastics."

Waikato Times