Imagine yourself running in a marathon, exchanging leads with only one other runner as you set your sights on the finish line. Then, all of a sudden, a volunteer runs onto the street and thrusts your nation’s flag into your hand as if you’ve already won…
That is exactly what happened to He Yinli as she was racing to become the winner of the 2018 Suzhou Taihu Marathon on Sunday, November 18. The Chinese runner was neck and neck with Ayantu Abera De Misse from Kenya, vying for the fastest time, when a volunteer attempted to give her a Chinese flag to carry during the final stretch. She managed to avoid the volunteer, pushing away the flag and continuing the race. The volunteer, looking as confused as a first-day intern, began chasing the runner in a poor attempt to pass on the flag (take a hint, lady!).
Screengrab via QQ
Screengrab via QQ
Unfortunately, that volunteer wasn’t the only one dead-set on seeing He carry the nation’s bright red and yellow flag. Another volunteer jumped into the middle of the street and practically shoved the flag into He’s hand. The Chinese participant carried the flag for nearly five seconds before discarding it, but at that point, the other runner had already started to pull away. He finished in second place, trailing Abera De Misse by five seconds, according to the marathon's official Weibo account.
Watch below to see these two volunteers obstruct He from finishing in first place. (VPN off):
The incident was a top trending topic on China’s micro-blogging site Weibo, with over 100 million netizens tuning in to read and watch the controversial marathon ending. Internet users commenting on yesterday’s mishap were quick to blame the volunteers for throwing off He’s rhythm. One user posted, “that volunteer was purely just causing trouble! Handing off the country’s flag takes place at the finish line. If you hand it over halfway through the race, how will the runner be able to move their arms back and forth? How will they continue to run? I really suspect this volunteer was working with the African runner.”
With a small group of commenters questioning why she couldn’t run the remainder of the race with the flag, He Yinli took to Weibo to clarify her actions, writing, “I didn’t throw it, the flag was completely soaked, and my arms were very stiff. When my arms were swaying, the flag flew out. I’m very sorry and hope you can understand!”
It’s always disappointing to see a race end in controversy, but we’ve got a feeling He will have an extra chip on her shoulder next race.
[Cover image: screengrab via QQ]