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In defense of He Kexin, sort of

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There is a part of me that feels that my Olympics would have been diminished had He Kexin not been here.

This is not to condone cheating. If she and several of her teammates are under age 16, as several Western media reports suggest, she should not have competed. Further reports that the international gymnastics federation (FIG) will investigate are welcome.

That said, He’s uneven bar routine was the single most breathtaking thing I saw during the Olympic gymnastics program.

I say this not to begin a debate about who performed the best routine in nine days of gymnastics, but to point out that in the Olympics – a competition devoted to continually redefining the frontiers of human performance – He is a Louis and Clark of the uneven bars.

It is clear that she could do what she did only because she is so small. For all her talent, 18-year-old American Nastia Liukin could not have done some of the releases and hand holds that He did. At 5-foot-3, 99 lbs., she is simply too big.

So we return to one of gymnastics’ eternal questions: How young is too young to be a professional athlete, which these girls basically are?


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