Olympic probe into age-fixing of Chinese gymnasts

BEIJING (AFP) — An International Olympic Committee-ordered investigation into alleged age-fixing of Chinese gymnasts rocked China's golden Games Friday.

The IOC stepped in after persistant media claims that double women's gymnastics gold-medallist He Kexin is only 14, two years shy of the sport's minimum age-16 requirement at the Olympics.

Despite rumbling concerns through the Games that He, and possibly two other Chinese gymnasts were only 14, He produced a passport showing she turned 16 this year as required.

"We have asked the gymastics federation to look into what have been a number of questions and apparent discrepencies on this subject," said IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies, insisting the investigation was informal.

China has spent more than 40 billion dollars on the Bejing Olympics to underscore their emergence as a global sporting power.

The returns on the investment are obvious. Their best-ever Olympic performance sees China topping the medals table with 46 gold, a handsome lead over the United States on 30, Great Britain with 17 and Russian on 16.

However, the undisputed standout performers have not been Chinese but eight gold-medal winning American swimmer Michael Phelps and track sprint king Usain Bolt from Jamaica.

Double world-record breaker Bolt is set to race further into Olympic history on Friday with a likely third gold medal in the sprint relay.

"With Usain in it, it's going to be an awesome race," his 4x100 metres relay team-mate Asafa Powell said.

Bolt is the first man to win the 100m and 200m double in world record time, inspiring his Jamaican team-mates to totally rule the men's and women's Olympic sprint events and they should seal their sprint dominance in the relays.

"He set the bar so high now everyone wants a gold medal," said Aleen Bailey of the Jamaican women's 4x100m relay team.

Bolt also won support from the IOC's athletics commission head Frankie Fredericks, himself an Olympic sprint silver medallist, after IOC chief Jacques Rogge criticised the Jamaican's showmanship at the finish line.

"We cannot tell a guy who's run 9.69 seconds how he needs to react," said Fredericks.

As hot, dry weather returned to Beijing following a day of storms there are 21 finals on Friday, with track and field events commanding the most attention with seven gold medals on offer.

In addition to the relays there is the decathlon, where American Brian Clay has a 124 point lead over Andrey Krauchanka of Belarus after six events, and the women's 5,000m where Tirunesh Dibaba is on the threshold of a memorable double after winning the 10,000m.

The first athletics final of the day saw Alex Schwazer of Italy win the men's 50km walk.

Philip Dalhausser and Todd Rogers completed the United States sweep of beach volleyball when they beat Brazil in the men's final a day after Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh beat China for the women's gold.

BMX cycling made its Olympic debut with Maris Strombergs claiming Latvia's first gold medal in Beijing in the men's final and 30-year-old Anne-Caroline Chausson coming out of retirement to win France the women's gold.

China have a gold for certain in women's table tennis, providing both players in the women's singles final, and the Games hosts are also in the hockey final against overwhelming favorites the Netherlands.

South Korea won through to the baseball final after beating Japan 6-2 in the semis. Cuba play the United States in the other semi-final later Friday.

There was further scandal at the equestrian events in Hong Kong where failed dope tests by four horses in the individual jumping final cast doubt on the future of elite horse sports in the Games.