Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

How do you keep your kids so young, Mr. Li? “Ancient Chinese secret”

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Uncomfortably racist evidence of backroom Chinese chicanery.

News has trickled out of China that in the southern province of Guangdong, about 3,000 out of 15,000 athletes participating in its annual youth games lied about their ages. Unlike the allegations surrounding Chinese gymnasts in during the Beijing Olympics, sports officials found the athletes in Guangdong to be too old for their competition, not too young.

How did these cheatin’ cheaters get caught? They underwent an X-ray bone analysis. By making a radiograph of the left hand and wrist, you can estimate a child’s age based on bone density. The actual medical reason for such a procedure is to check for cases of atypical bone development, either a child growing too slowly or too quickly for his or her age.

According to local authorities, bone analysis showed athletes as much as seven years older than the age group in which they competed. The strength events had the most fakers. About 2,000 athletes are too old for the games and can’t compete next year, while another 1,000 will have to repeat in what is now determined to be their own age group.

I can’t read the original Chinese report, so I can’t tell if anybody who had a bone age disparate from their stated age was busted, or if there was a minimum separation. Particularly before puberty, it’s fairly common for bone age to be a year ahead or behind a child’s actual age. Even being two to four years behind the curve is not uncommon. This overseas adoption site says that because of early malnourishment, it’s common for Chinese adoptees to be underdevelopment, which is why using bone and teeth analysis to determine age isn’t recommended until at least two years after the child’s placement.

So the possibility exists that the provincial officials of Guangdong are being a tad overzealous.

Then again, they have reason to be. The Chinese Basketball Association has been hit with age-shaving. (Former CBA player Yi Jianlin of the New Jersey Nets is widely assumed to be at least two years older than his stated age of 21.) Also, there is a great incentive to cheat because a great performance at the provincial level means being picked to be a part of your province’s team for the National Games, and perhaps being on your way to getting lavish support to train for international competition. I’m sure provincial officials don’t think 20 percent of athletes with bone age older than their stated age was within the norm — especially because it would be more likely to be the opposite, if that adoption site is to be believed.

Lest we in the United States get too smug over all the age cheating going in China, I’ll mention two words: Danny Almonte.

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