Host City: Beijing, China
Venue(s): National Indoor Stadium, , Beijing
Date Started: August 10, 2008
Date Finished: August 13, 2008
The format was the same as in 2004. There was a qualifying round, with only the top eight teams advancing to the final round. In the qualifying round each team was allowed six competitors, with five to compete on each apparatus, and the best four of five scores counting for each apparatus. Qualifying scores did not carry over to the final round. In the final, each team had six gymnasts, with three allowed to compete on each apparatus, all three scores counting, which was termed the 6/3/3 rule.
This was expected to be a battle between the United States and China, who had won the last two World titles. However, controversy in this event began two weeks before the Olympics when The New York Times posted an article looking at the ages of several of the Chinese gymnasts, and using Chinese sources, noted that several of them were under the age limit of 16-years-old. The Chinese Gymnastics Federation then produced passports verifying their ages, which were accepted by the Fédération Internationale de Gymnastique (FIG), although there was abundant evidence that the gymnasts were not actually old enough to compete by FIG rules. The Chinese team’s girls also averaged only 145 cm tall and 35 kg in weight, far smaller than the American team.
The Chinese had a history of sneaking underage gymnasts into the competition, with the case of Dong Fangxiao at the 2000 Olympics the most notable one. In 2008 she was discovered to have been underage in 2000 and the Chinese lost their team bronze medal from the Sydney Olympics. Despite all this all the Chinese gymnasts were allowed to compete. The start time for the events was not even changed which may have caused several of them to be up past their bedtime.
The USA and China were paired together on the rotations in the final round. The US took the lead on the first rotation, the vault, but China moved ahead on the uneven bars, and was unstoppable on balance beam and floor exercise, winning the gold medal by almost 2½ points. The two nations were the class of the event, as the United States was 5 points ahead of bronze-medal winning Romania.
The IOC declined to investigate the Chinese gymnasts’ ages, leaving it to the FIG to do so. In October 2008 the FIG declared that the Chinese documents proved that all the gymnasts were old enough to compete, with Chinese officials blaming the controversy on administrative errors.