Blogging under the name Stryde Hax, Mike Walker, a principal consultant for the security group, has posted screenshots of an Excel spreadsheet that was removed from an official Chinese government Web site but was still available through Baidu, China's most popular search engine. The file appears to show that He Kexin is not old enough for Olympic competition.
"In the Baidu cache, which apparently has not been hit with the scrub brush (yet), two spreadsheets published by the Chinese government on sport.gov.cn both list He Kexin's birthday as 01-01-1994, making her 14 years old," Walker wrote in a blog post.
Earlier this month, the Associated Press published an article stating that online documents showed that three female Chinese gymnasts were younger than Chinese gymnastics officials claimed. Chinese officials have dismissed such allegations and the International Olympic Committee shows no interest in investigating the matter.
Walker said that he had seen news stories making such claims and wanted to find out the truth for himself. Based on the documents he found using search engines, he said that he's convinced that He Kexin is under the required age. "Regardless of whether this has any impact on the IOC, I think the important lesson here is that citizens don't have to rely on major institutions to get the news," he said in a phone interview.
The issue for Walker is censorship and truth. The files he found, he said, are being removed.
"I don't really feel that it's about the gymnastics age limit, or even really about whether fraud occurred," he explained in a follow-up blog post. "At this point, I believe that any reasonable observer already understands that age records have been forged. This story now is really about Internet censorship, the act of removing evidence while at the same time claiming that the evidence is wrong. For the first time I watched search records shift under my feet like sand, facts draining down a hole in the Internet. Will this stand?"
Perhaps not. Among the 69 comments posted at the time this article was written, there were already links to dozens of copies of the files Walker found, including screenshots, to preserve the information so that people can make up their own minds about the controversy.
"There's a real lesson here in damage control for institutions," said Walker. "Just making things go away isn't an option anymore."