The International Gymnastics Federation has banned the People’s Republic of North Korea from participating in any international gymnastics competition for the next two years after discovering that Hong Su Jong had been registered for competitions using three different birth years.
The ban became effective October 6, 2010, will be lifted October 5, 2012, more than two months after the Olympic torch is extinguished in London.
An FIG investigation found out that Hong, a 2004 Olympian who won a silver medal on vault at the 2007 World Championships, was registered for several international competitions using three different birth years: 1985, 1986 and 1989. Hong’s twin sister, Hong Un Jong, won the Olympic gold medal on vault in 2008.
Hong Su Jong’s birthday was reported as March 9, 1989 when she registered for the 2010 World Championships. If correct, that birthdate would have made her underage at the 2004 Olympic Games.
Following the initial investigation in early October, the FIG handed North Korea a provisional 30-day suspension from international competition, rendering the country’s gymnasts unable to compete at the Rotterdam Worlds. The ban was upheld despite a written appeal from the North Korean federation.
The FIG Disciplinary Commission’s final decision, handed down Friday, forbids North Koreans “from participating in any capacity in any competition or activity authorised or organised by the FIG, any Union, any National Federation, any club or in any international event (incl. national for the gymnast).” The FIG has also fined North Korea 20,000 Swiss francs (about $20,000).
“The FIG’s decision is a clear signal to those who would wilfully disregard the current rules surrounding gymnast age,” the FIG stated in a press release. “The health of its athletes and respect for the law are among the International Gymnastics Federation’s highest priorities.”
The North Koreans have the right to appeal the ban within the next 21 days.
North Korean gymnasts were banned from the 1993 Worlds after it was discovered that 1991 World bars champion Kim Gwang Suk had been registered as a 15-year-old for three years in a row at the World Championships.
North Korean gymnasts are capable of some of the most spectacular difficulty in the World. At the 2009 Universiade, Ri Si Gwang stunned people by training a full-twisting Tsukahara double back, though he did not perform it in the meet. At the 2010 Moscow World Cup, he showed a piked Dragulescu (handspring double front with a half twist).
Cha Yong Hwa, who boasted a Def in her repertoire, finished fifth on uneven bars at the 2009 World Championships, and teammate Kim Un Hyang was fourth on balance beam (roundoff, layout full twist). Then of course, there was Hong Un Jong, who crashed both vaults in event finals in London in 2009 but looked capable of returning to top form.
The first competition Hong Su Jong and the North Koreans will miss is the prestigious Asian Games Nov. 12-27 in Guangzhou, China. At the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, Hong Su Jong won gold on uneven bars, bronze in the all-around and silvers on vault and with her team.
Your take: Is the FIG’s ruling fair? What would you have done under these circumstances?
My question: What’s going to happen to these gymnasts in North Korea who have worked for years to attain the elite level, and are throwing some of the most difficult skills in the world? Where will they go now?
Follow Gymnastics Examiner Blythe Lawrence on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GymExaminer or click the “Subscribe” button above to receive the latest gymnastics news and results via e-mail.