Controversial Chinese gymnast Dong Fangxiao has sworn her potential New Zealand employers to silence as she tries to make a new life in the Waikato.

The Huntly Gym Club wants to hire the Olympic medallist as a coach and has applied for $11,500 of funding from Waikato District Council to buy equipment and $10,000 to pay for her professional services.

Dong is the centre of worldwide controversy after an International Gymnastics Federation finding last month that she was 14, and too young to compete, at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

As athletes must be 16 to compete at the Olympics, Dong and her teammates could be stripped of their team bronze medal by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

With the United States poised to move up from fourth, there is world interest, with the IOC likely to make its decision at its next meeting in April.

Dong had told the Huntly Gym Club to make no comment to the media, the manager said yesterday, confirming the club did want to hire the former star.

Dong was registered with a January 20, 1983 birthdate to compete in Sydney, then registered herself with a January 20, 1986 birthdate on her accreditation to work as an official at the 2008 Beijing Games.

On her blog, she said she was born in the year of the ox, which corresponded to February 20, 1985 to February 8, 1986.

Dong said on Chinese television she was underage at the Olympics, but has since retracted that, saying she was mistaken.

The federation said that, at a hearing in December, Dong said she was born in 1983 but produced a passport that gave her birthdate in 1986.

Dong now lives in New Zealand with her husband, but has not spoken about the ruling.

A friend in New Zealand, reached on Dong's mobile phone, said she had returned for a while to China.

Associated Press reported the age ordeal has presented a dilemma to the ex-gymnast, whose career was abruptly cut short a year after Sydney by a crippling thighbone injury.

It said Dong was now being left out in the cold in China, where the top gymnastics administrator is trying to wriggle out of sanctions by shifting blame on to her.

The state-run China Youth Daily quoted Luo Chaoyi as saying Dong was eligible in Sydney but then shaved three years off her age after retirement in 2001, and that "this must have been an act by her and her family".

"Coaches - and not just in China - have also long falsified ages for girls whose small and supple bodies give them a competitive advantage over larger and older young women.

"The reverse scenario - that a retired gymnast would pass herself off as a kid - makes no sense."

- NZPA