The Biggest Controversies in Olympic Gymnastics

From the ongoing age limit debate, to the doping scandal with Andreea Raducan, to the polarizing wins of Tatiana Gutsu and Dimosthenis Tampakos, these were the most controversial moments in Olympic gymnastics.

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2008: Ages of Gymnasts Questioned

The Chinese gymnastics team receive their gold medals for winning the 2008 Olympic team title in gymnastics

Shaun Botterill / Getty Images

In 2008, China won its first ever team gold medal in women's gymnastics in impressive fashion, beating the second-place US team 188.900-186.525. Though no one debated if China was the best team that day, many questions arose about the age of the athletes on the Chinese team.

According to the controversial age limit rule in effect, all gymnasts that year must have been born in the year 1992 or earlier in order to be eligible to compete. Though the Chinese government supplied passports indicating all gymnasts on the team were of age, media outlets and bloggers uncovered several Chinese documents demonstrating team members He Kexin and Jiang Yuyuan were born in 1994 and 1993, respectively.

The media coverage surrounding the issue was enormous, and after the competition the IOC urged the FIG to further investigate the issue. A month later, the FIG announced that the Chinese gymnasts had been confirmed as old enough by the legal documents supplied by China. While some doubted the thoroughness of the FIG's investigation, others used this case to rally against the age limit, declaring it unenforceable.

Though it's not the first time a delegation has been accused of doctoring ages, because it was an Olympic year and involved the team champions, this instance threw yet another gymnastics controversy into the limelight of mainstream media.​

In a related case, in April of 2010 the IOC stripped China of the 2000 Olympic team bronze after it was proven that a gymnast from the 2000 team was too young to compete.

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2004: Men's All-Around Medal Results

Gymnasts Dae Eun Kim (Korea), Paul Hamm (USA), and Yang Tae-Young (Korea) receive their medals for the 2004 Olympic all-around competition

Stu Forster / Getty Images

In the men's all-around competition at the Athens Olympics, Paul Hamm became the first American man to win gold. After the meet, however, bronze medalist Yang Tae-Young claimed a judging error on his parallel bars routine had unfairly docked him .1 of a point, enough to make the difference between bronze and gold.

The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) agreed with Yang and suspended the judges responsible, but said because he had not protested his score immediately after it was posted, they could not change the results. (It is standard protocol in gymnastics that inquiries of scores are allowed, but only during the event and not after.) Eventually, the case was brought to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, who ruled that Hamm would keep the gold medal.

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2004: Rings Final

Dimosthenis Tampakos performs on the rings at the 2004 Olympics

Chris McGrath / Getty Images

Though many of the scores in the Athens men's competition were debated, the second most controversial (behind Yang Tae-Young's parallel bars score) was the rings mark of Greece's Dimosthenis Tampakos.

Tampakos took gold over Bulgarian Jordan Jovtchev, despite a step on his double layout dismount. Jovtchev stuck his (more difficult) full twisting double layout dismount but received .012 lower, enough for silver.

The Bulgarian federation protested the results, citing hometown influence as the reason Tampakos had won, but the medals remained the same. Jovtchev later described it as "terrible judging."

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2000: The Vault is Set to the Wrong Height

Svetlana Khorkina falls on her vault at the 2000 Olympics
Svetlana Khorkina falls on her vault at the 2000 Olympics.

Jamie Squire / Getty Images

Halfway through the women's all-around competition in Sydney, Australian gymnast Allana Slater noticed something very wrong and brought it to the attention of her coaches and the meet officials. The vaulting horse, specified to be set at a height of 125 cm, had been set 5 cm too low. The officials immediately raised the horse and allowed any gymnast who had already vaulted the opportunity to vault again.

It was too late for some gymnasts, however. The Olympic favorite (and all-around leader from preliminaries), Svetlana Khorkina, had vaulted—and crashed—her attempts earlier on in the competition. Distraught that she had ruined her chances at Olympic gold, Khorkina went to the next event, uneven bars, and fell there as well. Later, when the height error was discovered, she was told she could re-do her vaults. But with a low score on bars too, her all-around hopes had already been eliminated.

American Elise Ray also had disastrous falls in both the warm-ups and vault competition and had a chance at winning an all-around medal that day.

In the end, many still wonder if Khorkina would have won it all had she vaulted on the right height.

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2000: Andreea Raducan Stripped of Gold

Andreea Raducan stands on the shoulders of her coach Octavian Belu after winning the all-around

Ezra Shaw / Getty Images

Despite the controversy of the vault height, three Olympic medalists were named in the women's all-around competition in Sydney. Andreea Raducan of Romania won gold, with compatriots Simona Amanar and Maria Olaru winning silver and bronze.

Shortly after the competition, however, Raducan was stripped of her medal after testing positive for the banned substance pseudoephedrine. She had been given the substance in cold medicine provided by the team doctor.

Raducan was allowed to keep the team gold and vault silver medals she won in different competitions during the Games because she had clean tests after both of those medals were awarded. Amanar was also provided with the same cold medicine, and it is thought that Raducan tested positive mostly because of her tiny size (82 pounds).

In a hearing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport after the Games, members of the panel acknowledged that the medicine did not improve her performance, but upheld the ruling that she should be stripped of her medal, citing a zero-tolerance code in drug cases. To add insult to injury, pseudoephedrine has now been removed from the banned substances list.

You cab watch Raducan's performance on the uneven bars, balance beam, and floor exercise to see for yourself.

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2000: Vanessa Atler Left Off the Olympic Team

Vanessa Atler performs a split leap on beam

Craig Jones / Getty Images

Vanessa Atler was the undisputed star of the American team in the beginning of the 1997-2000 quadrennium. The co-national champion in 1997, fans, coaches and athletes all marveled at her difficult skill level, especially her world-class vaulting and tumbling.

But an inconsistency on the uneven bars soon began to affect her all-around results: She lost both the 1998 and 1999 US Championships because of falls on bars. By the time the Olympic year rolled around, Atler was struggling with coaching changes and injuries and had fallen to fourth at the 2000 Nationals.

Atler had a disastrous Olympic Trials, with a scary fall on beam and mistakes on her best events—vault and floor. Still, she placed sixth all-around, so many were shocked when she was not named to the team, even as an alternate. In past years, the Olympic team had been decided solely on rankings (usually the top six would have qualified), but in 2000, the team was selected by committee—a group that seemed to feel that Atler's inconsistencies were too much of a liability.

Many thought the decision was right, and that because of her mistakes Atler was not mentally prepared to compete in the Games. Others thought she should have been on the squad because her abilities on vault and floor helped offset other team members' weaknesses on those events. Still, others felt that the process itself was unfair, and should have been decided based on scores, not based on committee.

Shortly after the Trials, Atler retired from the sport. The selection process that was in place for the Olympic Trials in 2000 is still used today.​​

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1996: Age Limit is Increased

Dominique Moceanu performs on bars at the 1996 Olympics
Dominique Moceanu performs on bars at the 1996 Olympics.

Mike Powell / Getty Images

After the 1996 Olympics, the International Federation of Gymnastics (FIG) officially raised the age limit in gymnastics from age 15 to 16. (A gymnast must reach this age by the end of the Olympic year, so, for example, a gymnast born any date in 1992 was eligible for the 2008 Games).

Though a year age difference may not seem like much, many coaches and gymnasts strongly opposed the age increase. Their argument: In women's gymnastics, many athletes peak at about age 15 or 16. If the limit had been 16 in 1976, Nadia Comaneci would not have had her historic Olympic performance (she was 14), and other athletes such as Dominique Moceanu (age 14 at the 1996 Olympics), Svetlana Boguinskaya (15 in 1988), and Kerri Strug (age 14 in 1992) would have all been ineligible to compete. Comaneci and Moceanu reached the pinnacle of their sport before their 16th year, and by moving up the age limit, many felt that the FIG was making it that much more difficult for female gymnasts—often with very short careers—to make it to the Olympics.

Others supported the age limit, saying it would be safer for the athletes to compete at a more advanced age, and that coaches would not have to push their gymnasts at a young age in order to reach the elite level by their early teens. Since 1997, the age limit has remained at 16, and current FIG president Bruno Grandi has even talked about increasing it further, to age 18.

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1992: Tatiana Gutsu Narrowly Wins Over Shannon Miller

Tatiana Gutsu (center) waves to the crowd as Shannon Miller (left) and Lavinia Milosivici (right) applaud

Tony Duffy / Getty Images

In the 1992 Olympic all-around final in Barcelona, Tatiana Gutsu (competing as part of the Unified team) beat out Shannon Miller (USA) by .012, the smallest margin of victory ever. Gutsu's win caused much debate because many felt that Miller had performed better that day. While Gutsu had stumbled forward on her opening tumbling pass of her floor routine, Miller had had a virtually error-free competition.

To further spark the controversy, Gutsu had not technically qualified to the all-around competition. In preliminaries, she had fallen on her beam mount and failed to advance to the all-around finals because she was not one of the top three on the Unified team. Her coaches, knowing she had the potential to win gold, pulled Gutsu's teammate Roza Galieva from the all-around competition and put Gutsu in. Though this was not against the rules, it increased the indignation among those who felt Miller was the rightful winner of the 1992 all-around final.​

You can watch Gutsu's and Miller's performances on the bars, beam, floor, and vault and compare the two for yourself.

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1988: US Team Docked .5 of a Point

The top women's gymnastics teams receive their medals at the 1988 Olympics

Bob Martin / Getty Images

At the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, the American team received a .5 of a point deduction—enough to drop them from third to fourth place—because team alternate Rhonda Faehn remained on the podium (the raised competition floor) while a teammate competed. American officials appealed the penalty as a little-known rule that did not affect the competition outcome and argued that a warning would have been fairer. It was to no avail, however, and the American team ended up out off the medals.​