It’s Not Like This is Surprising

Back in 2008, when the world was looking at their TV screens and seeing in Beijing a group of barely pubescent Chinese gymnasts all bearing passports that declared them to be 16, there had in fact been an alarm raised among figure skating fans, about one Bingwa Geng, who at Junior Worlds was claimed to be 14 years old, but looked a lot closer to 12.  I think there were even some records that disputed her ISU-given age.  But she didn’t quite live up to her hype, so the matter was forgotten.

Except now it turns out this age-fudging business is slightly more extensive than we thought.

In fact, China has even been on the record as flouting the rules; last year, they sent three pairs to Junior Worlds when in fact they had only qualified two; their reputation, it seems, made everyone on site just assume the third pair was supposed to be there.  Later when the problem was pointed out, the ISU removed the third pair from the results without comment.  But this was too little, too late; another pair had been deprived of a berth in the free skate by this cheating.  In the new environment of qualification rounds, this robbery gains the potential to be worse, by depriving a pair a chance to be in the competition at all.  Oddly enough, there are only two Chinese pairs on the roster for Junior Worlds this year, when the placements of the other two did qualify three, but still.

For the past decade, we now discover, the skaters of Japan, the United States, and most recently Russia are being punished for their honesty.  A fudged passport and Mao might have been the 2006 Olympic champion.  Mirai Nagasu and Rachael Flatt might have gone to Worlds in 2008, and the way that competition went, they probably would have preserved the US’ third spot for Ladies; Caroline Zhang would have gotten a trip to Worlds.  She might have even made the top eight; Ashley Wagner might have gone to the Olympics, and who knows she wouldn’t have preserved the third spot again(all hypothetical, of course, but one can see the potential for how much toll the age rule has taken on US Ladies).  But no, the right thing was done, and as a reward China spits in their faces.  Now Adelina Sotnikova suffers the indignity of being one day too young to enter the ISU championship scene until the pre-Olympic year.  If Russia suddenly conveniently discovered they’d made a mistake on her birth certificate, well, I can’t say I’d blame them!

Add the dilemma countless US pairs, and probably pairs from other countries too, have suffered due to age rules, with the ISU continually threatening to make it worse by changing the age rules to meet with arbitrary standards that don’t meet with reality.  And all the while, we see the Chinese pairs machine has decided the rules don’t have to apply to them.  None of the Chinese ladies have been enough of a factor in any competition for anyone to be deprived of serious results, but now we discover two pairs on this year’s Grand Prix circuit have been robbed of medals.  Caitlin Yankowskas & John Coughlin were robbed of silver.  Worst of all, Narumi Takahashi & Mervin Tran were robbed of a chance to compete in the Senior Grand Prix Finale.

The ISU isn’t the kind of organization that punishes a federation that gives them as much money as China does.  But meanwhile, this hurts much more than corrupt judging, because you can’t say the athletes themselves are innocent(after my brief foray into cycling fandom, I’ve come to realize what a reassurance that is).  Some of the girls you can excuse, both due to their young age and the fact that their ability to make a living is probably completely dependent on the athletic machine.  But their partners are all adults, and at some point must be held responsible.

Wenjing Sui & Cong Han could very easily win Olympic gold in Sochi.  According to this, she will still be old enough to compete there, but barely.  And meanwhile, they will have gained their reputation with the judges in competitions they will have gotten into by fraud.  Fans rant all the time about another judging scandal, but this would be a far less subjective and therefore a much more deadly one.  Can this sport take that?


6 thoughts on “It’s Not Like This is Surprising

  1. No wonder the Chinese men’s skaters seem neglected! They’ve been putting all their money into altering the ages for their pairs and ladies. Seriously though, why the ladies? None of them are medal contenders! As for the pairs, will Sui and Han’s partnership even be sustainable to Sochi? I wonder because whether he’s really 18 or 21, Cong won’t be growing too much more. However, Wenjing will definitely grow a few inches and the decreased height difference will likely have a negative effect on their pair skills. So China might have shot themselves in the foot with that one.

    Also, Evora and Ladwig won bronze behind Takahashi and Tran (at Cup of Russia) not Sui and Han. Yankowskas and Coughlin are the ones you were thinking of.

    • I think they hoped for the ladies to be more successful than they were; there was especially a lot of talk about Bingwa Geng(who of course then did pretty well on the Grand Prix this year, but they may have expected her results earlier, before she would have been old enough for them). I admit I hadn’t thought of the practical consequences of Sui and Han’s partnership, though it is true pairing 13 and 21 year olds often doesn’t end well.
      Thanks for the correction; I’ve changed the entry.

  2. “Oddly enough, there are only two Chinese pairs on the roster for Junior Worlds this year, when the placements of the other two did qualify three, but still.”

    I wonder if the ISU took the results of the lowest two pairs to determine the number of entries this year. It sure would be convienent if we could all enter an extra team and then just say after the fact that the team that placed the lowest was the one we didn’t mean to enter.

    Often the skater who is expected to shine places lower than the one who goes as the backup.

    It makes me sick that this is allowed to continue.

    • The final results are here: There is a note about the lowest Chinese pair, “a wrong entry,” removed from the results. The final results would have qualified three pairs whichever pair was removed; even if Sui & Han were removed, the other two would have moved up to 5th and 7th. But even if they had the third pair removed this year as punishment, that’s not much consolation to the Estonians, which was the worst part of it.

  3. How awful must Mao, Mirai, Ashley, Adelina, Narumi/Mervin be feeling right now? As painful as it was to miss out, this is just going to rub salt in the wound. And there’s no doubt the ISU will sweep this issue under the rug.

    The ISU shouldn’t have instituted these age rules since we all could have guessed some would not play by the rules and this would just punish the honest skaters.

    • To be fair, there are honestly good reasons for the age rules, especially in the pairs; as noted above, pairing a 13 year old girl with a 21 year old guy usually doesn’t end well(though it seems even in countries that accept they’d be out of Worlds during their potentially best years they tend to do it anyway *sigh*). But age rules only work if everyone obeys them.

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