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Ages of skaters doubted

China is facing new questions about the ages of some of its athletes after discrepancies were found in the birthdates of nine figure skaters.

According to a list of birthdates published on the Chinese Skating Association’s website and found by The Associated Press, the skaters violated the sport’s age limits by competing when they were either too young or too old. The birthdates on the federation’s websites differ from those listed on the athletes’ International Skating Union bios.

Among the skaters whose eligibility is in question are Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao, the 2006 Olympic pairs silver medalists, and Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, the reigning junior world champions and China’s top up-and-coming pairs team.

The discovery comes less than a year after the IOC stripped China of its 2000 Olympic bronze medal in women’s team gymnastics for using an underage girl. That violation was uncovered during an investigation into age fraud by China’s team that won the gold medal at the Beijing Games. The 2008 team later was cleared after Chinese officials provided original passports, ID cards and family registers showing all the gymnasts were old enough to compete.

According to ISU rules, skaters must be 15 by the preceding July 1 to compete at an Olympics or senior world championships, and 14 for other senior-level international competitions, such as the Grand Prix final. Junior skaters must be at least 13 the previous July 1 but cannot have turned 19 (singles) or 21 (pairs and ice dancers).

According to the records found by the AP on the federation website, Zhang Dan was born Oct. 4, 1987, meaning she would have been only 14 when she and Zhang Hao -- no relation -- competed at the 2002 Olympics and world championships. The Zhangs were 11th in Salt Lake City and ninth at worlds.

Zhang Hao, meanwhile, was born on Feb. 6, 1982, according to his birthdate on the federation website. That would have made him too old to compete at the 2003 junior world championships, which they won.

The Zhangs went on to win the silver medal at the Turin Games and silvers at the 2006, 2008 and 2009 world championships.

The ISU is aware of the discrepancies and has asked the Chinese federation for more information, ISU spokeswoman Selina Vanier said Monday.

“At the moment, we have no comment because we’re trying to find out where those lists are, who created them, etc.,” Vanier said. “Once we have that information, then we’ll have more information.”

The Chinese Skating Association and the General Administration of Sport of China did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press.

Lyndon Johnston is the figure skating director at the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex, where Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig train.

The pairs figure skaters competed in the 2010 Winter Olympics and are currently in Asia for the 2011 ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships that begins Thursday.

“I think it’s very simple that if this has come to the forefront of the media, then obviously there has been a lot of questioning throughout the community for quite some time,” said Johnston, who is one of three coaches for Evora and Ladwig. “And the IOC is very strong with what they will or will not do. And if they are guilty, then they will pay the consequences. Will that effect (Team USA)? In the long run it will effect us, because of the fact that we do what we do and we do it best to our ability. We can’t really worry about what they’re doing. We play by the rules. And if others who don’t play by the rules, there are consequences that will have to be had.”

IOC president Jacques Rogge said he was not aware of the discrepancies, but planned to ask his staff about them.

“Definitely, if there is a discrepancy it must be solved,” Rogge said Monday in Prague. “We had the situation with gymnastics where sanctions were taken when the truth emerged. I can say that in this case, which I don’t know in detail, definitely, we would urge both parties to come up with the truth and then decisions will be taken. As I said I will check with my sports department.”

China’s top up-and-coming pairs team of Sui and Han are considered to be the heirs apparent to Olympic gold medalists Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo, winning the junior world title last year and medaling at all of their senior Grand Prix events this year, including taking the bronze at the Grand Prix final.

According to the list of birthdates on the federation website, however, Sui and Han should not have been competing at any of those events and also are ineligible for this year’s junior world championships, which begin Feb. 28 in South Korea.

Sui was born on May 7, 1997, according to the federation website, making her just 13. That would mean she was too young for both last year’s junior world championships, where she and Han were first, and this year’s senior Grand Prix series. Han, meanwhile, has a March 1989 birthday on the federation’s list, making him 21.

Yu Xiaoyu and Yang Jin, the other Chinese pair entered for the junior world championships, might not be eligible, either. Yu was born on Jan. 2, 1998, according to the federation website, making her only 12 on the July 1 cutoff for this season. Yet she and Yang competed on the junior Grand Prix circuit, winning in Ostrava and taking home bronzes from Graz and the junior Grand Prix final.

Yang’s birthdate is listed as May 16, 1989, making him almost 22.

Figure skating imposed age limits in 1996 to protect young athletes from serious injuries. Pair teams, in particular, do high-risk elements including throw jumps, lifts and twists, where the female skater is tossed above her partner’s head.

The ISU has been strict with its age limits, refusing to bow to pressure when budding star Mao Asada missed the cutoff for the Turin Olympics by 87 days.

The United States had to send its fifth- and seventh-place finishers to the 2008 world championships because U.S. champ Mirai Nagasu and runner-up Rachael Flatt were too young. Flatt had turned 15 the previous July 21, meaning she missed the cutoff by just three weeks.

Herald sports writer Jason Dill and AP writers Stephen Wilson, Stephen Wade and Karel Janicek contributed to this report.

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