The question fascinates gymnastics fans.
Kim, from North Korea, was one of the best barworkers at the 1992 Olympic Games. The 1991 World Bars Champion performed a killer reverse-hecht, Counter-Kim combination. If not for a small step on her double layout dismount, she might have won gold in 1992.
Kim Gwang Suk, 1992 Olympic Games Event Finals, Uneven Bars:
As it happens, she was fourth. Then she disappeared.
Too bad she shouldn’t have been there in the first place, or so it’s said.
Due to her small stature and the fact that the North Korean Gymnastics Federation listed her given age as 15 for three consecutive years, questions arose about Kim’s age and eligibility for senior competition. While her real age was never ascertained, it was discovered that the Federation had submitted inconsistent birth year information for her at least three times at three separate international competitions. As a result of the falsification, the North Korean women’s gymnastics team was banned from the 1993 World Championships.
Today, Northernriver at Difficulty Plus Execution reports that after all these years, Kim has resurfaced, to carry the Olympic torch as it travels through her home country.
She certainly seems to have grown. And she’s got front teeth, something she didn’t have in 1991 or 1992 (Officials said her teeth were knocked out in a training accident; Bela Karolyi thought otherwise and told reporters it was because she looked about 10.)
But how old was she, really? I say at least 14 in Barcelona. Yes, she was small. But the real reason is that even if you start gymnastics as soon as you can walk, you’re not going to be Olympic-caliber before age 11-12 – at the very earliest.
Even the best start somewhere. Take Ashley Priess for example, training at age five.
The earliest video of Kim Gwang Suk comes from 1987, at a junior competition called Druzhba, five years before Barcelona.
Kim Gwang Suk, 1987 Druzhba, balance beam:
At the very, very least, she could be eight or nine there, which would make her 13 or 14 in Barcelona. Because she couldn’t be any younger and be throwing those skills in 1987.
A fluff piece from
Korean Japanese television shows more close-ups of Kim.
Maybe I’m missing the point, which is that even if she had been age eligible for 1992, the North Koreans were wrong, or sloppy, to put her age as 15 for three consecutive years (In its 1991 coverage of the World Championships, ABC lists Kim as 16 years old and 4’4″ tall.)
It’s too bad, because she deserved the titles she won, and she probably could have continued and legitimately won quite a few more.