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18-Apr-2002  Romanian gymnasts 'lied about age'
  Posted: Thursday April 18, 2002 12:27 PM
  BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) -- The Romanian Gymnastics Federation is investigating allegations that four former leading female gymnasts, including three Olympic medalists, competed at senior levels while still too young to qualify for the events, an official said Thursday.
The gymnasts - Alexandra Marinescu, Gina Gogean, Monica Zahiu and Daniela Silivas - claim coaches and gymnastics officials forced them to declare themselves older so they could compete in senior-level world competitions. Romanian officials deny the allegations.

The International Gymnastics Federation raised the minimum age for competing in senior level competitions from 14 to 15 in 1986 and again from 15 to 16 in 1997 to protect children athletes from serious injuries.
Marinescu -- a bronze medalist in the 1998 Atlanta Olympics -- told The Associated Press she was forced to lie about her age.
"The trainers told me to do it. I thought it was strange but I had to obey," she said in a telephone interview Thursday. "I knew there were others (in my situation) but I didn't know which ones."
Now 20 and an aspiring disc jockey, Marinescu said she decided to talk about the lies to protect other young gymnasts.
"They should not be sacrificed for sports," she said. She quit gymnastics in 1997 because of back problems and has since undergone three spine operations. "I will have pain all my life," she said, adding she is planning to write a book about her experience.

Gogean, 23, told the daily newspaper Pro-Sport she was only 14 when she won a silver medal at the Barcelona 1992 Atlanta Olympic Games. Silivas, now 29, said she was forced to add two years to her age so that she compete in the 1985 World Championships where she won a gold and a silver.
Zahiu, now 18, had her birth date changed from 1982 to 1983, the paper reported, giving no details.

Nicolae Vieru, chairman of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation, denied the allegations, but said the issue would be investigated. "Passports were issued by Romanian authorities whom we trust," Vieru said in a telephone interview. "The federation does not create false passports."
Pro-Sport reported last week it had obtained Gogean's birth record from the eastern Romanian hospital where she was born. That document says she was born in 1978 -- a year later than the 1977 date listed in her passport.
The allegations come shortly after charges that Romanian gymnastics officials and trainers beat their athletes and deprived girls of food to reduce their weight -- something trainers and officials have denied.

Philippe Silacci, a spokesman for the International Gymnastics Federation in Switzerland, said the body had received no reply to a letter sent to the Romanian Gymnastics Federation demanding an explanation of the age-related allegations.
"We take any allegation of this nature seriously," he said in a telephone interview.

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