North Korea gymnasts banned 2 years for age falsification

LAUSANNE, Switzerland : North Korean gymnasts will miss the 2012 London Olympics under a two-year international suspension for age falsification. The International Gymnastics Federation announced Friday it was effectively banning North Korea from any competition outside its borders until Oct.

5, 2012. The federation ruled that Hong Su Jong listed three different birthdates in registering for international competitions from 2003 until this year.

Hong is also barred from national competitions, and FIG spokesman Philippe Silacci said she must give back her silver medal on vault from the 2007 world championships. The North Korean federation also was fined $20,800.

Hong and the North Korean federation have 21 days to appeal. "The FIG`s decision is a clear signal to those who would willfully disregard the current rules surrounding gymnast age," the FIG said in a statement.

"The health of its athletes and respect for the law are among the International Gymnastics Federation`s highest priorities." North Korea was already barred from sending full teams to the London Olympics after it was suspended from last month`s world championships in Rotterdam, Netherlands, the first step in team qualification for 2012.

But individual gymnasts still could have qualified for London had the FIG not imposed further punishment. The FIG`s announcement Friday also means North Korean gymnasts can`t compete at the Asian Games, which begin next week in Guangzhou, China.

The FIG began investigating Hong after she entered last month`s worlds using the third different birth date of her career. She listed her birth year as 1989, but the FIG said it found documents showing she had competed at the 2004 Athens Olympics and the 2006 worlds using a birth year of 1985.

She won the silver medal on vault at the 2007 worlds listing 1986 as her birth year. If Hong was born in 1989, she would have been ineligible to compete in Athens.

Gymnasts must turn at least 16 in the calendar year of an Olympics to be eligible. This is the second time North Korea has been punished for age falsification.

The federation was banned from the 1993 world championships after the FIG discovered that Kim Gwang Suk, the 1991 gold medalist on uneven bars, was listed as 15 for three years in a row. Age falsification has been a problem in gymnastics since the 1980s, when the minimum age was raised from 14 to 15 to help protect still-developing athletes from serious injuries.

The minimum age has been 16 since 1997. The FIG requires all gymnasts who represent their countries at most international meets to have a license that proves their age for their entire career.

Bureau Report