My birthday is June 14, 1983, and I have a government issued Chinese passport to prove it. Jason and I are being asked daily what we think about the Chinese gymnasts. Do we think they're really 16? Of course we don't; we see the same thing the rest of the world is seeing. Bela Karolyi put it best (and how hilarious and fabulous is he this year?)
"We are in the business of gymnastics. We know what a kid of 14 or 15 or 16 looks like. What kind of slap in the face is this? They are 12, 14 years old and they get lined up and the government backs them and the federation runs away. There is an age limit and it can't be controlled."
Bela also went on to call them "half-people" and to say, "These people (the Chinese) think we are stupid". In this day of political correctness how refreshing it is to have somebody call like it is. Thank you, Bela!
So will these girls be found out? Will they be stripped of their medals? Will they admit their real age? No, No, and No. The only way they can prove these girls are 14 are through government records. Why would the government admit they are lying? They wouldn't. They won't. The Chinese culture is built on "saving face". By winning gold medals these girls brought honor to their country and to their families. The government will see to it that they and their families will be taken care of for the rest of their lives. These girls are "16". Case close.
There's a great article in Time called China's Sports Schools. The article talks about how the Chinese are going into villages, hand picking children, and then training them to win gold at the Olympics. Not just for gymnastics, but for every sport. I have mixed emotions on this. If you're growing up in a Chinese village would you have a better life spending your childhood training for the Olympics? Sadly, maybe so. The Time article blasts China for taking away the opportunity for these children to receive an education. Truth of the matter is, if you're a Chinese villager, you're probably not going to get much of an education anyway. China doesn't have a public school system like we do, parents have to pay to send their kid to school. If your picked to be an athlete, at least you can be assured you won't go hungry, you'll have your own bed to sleep in, and if you actually do win....Well, then you and your family are set for life.
But, as Jason would say, "Just because that's the way it is, doesn't make it right." No, it doesn't make it right. But, it is what it is.
I end with just one last thing: Katie, the next time you're at the Pearl Market, could you pick me up a new passport? My "birthday" is listed at the top of this blog.