Running a marathon is difficult enough, but being handed a wet flag during the final leg may have caused a Chinese racer to lose the lead.
He Yinli is being both chastised and supported, in that she was closing in on the lead runner when she was handed the Chinese national flag. She wound up placing behind the winner, the ongoing debate in China is if she purposefully discarded it or if it slipped or if she was being unpatriotic or practical.
She didn’t ask to hold the national flag, and it seems as if a second flag was even offered, which she declined.
It is uncertain if CCTV, the race’s organizer, schemed to drag her down with the Chinese national flag. Perhaps it was the Chinese Foreign Propaganda office.
From personal experience, I once remarked to a Chinese State Security officer escort that there were so few Chinese flags flying when I was in Shanghai, perhaps China is learning that a flag may be viewed as a sign of patriotism.
Also from personal experience as a long distance runner, being handed anything just before the end of a very long race was never within my focus.
Updated 5:19 AM ET, Tue November 20, 2018
Beijing (CNN)To patriotically embrace the national flag, or win a marathon?
Lack of patriotism?
While most Chinese internet users have condemned the interference in He’s race and bemoaned her missed opportunity for the championship, others have questioned her patriotism for dropping the flag.
“The video shows that He Yinli crumpled the flag and tossed it away — is the race result more important than the national flag?” wrote Wei Jing, another Chinese marathon runner, on Weibo,the Chinese equivalence of Twitter.
The athlete responded by posting on her Weibo page that she didn’t throw the flag away on purpose and asked for understanding from the public.
“The national flag was drenched and my arm was stiff — the flag just slipped away as I swung my arms,” He said.
The accusation of “tossing away” the national flag is a serious charge in China. Any act deemed disrespectful of the national flag in public can result in up to three years in prison, according to China’s criminal code.
Despite the debate over He’s treatment of the national flag, many people have directed their criticisms at the organizers, amid reports that Chinese runners are required to drape themselves in the national flag before reaching the finish line.
Faced with criticism on social media, Suzhou officials — after initially claiming the “volunteer’s actions were entirely individual decisions” — turned around and apologized to He on Monday.
“Flag-draping is a good thing and it awes the onlookers at the scene,” said one unnamed organizer to the state-run Beijing Youth Daily newspaper. “But the cold and rainy weather, which caused the road to be slippery, contributed to the accident.”
CCTV, a media partner for a series of marathon races in China, has also weighed in, coming to He’s defense.
“How does one express patriotism? It’s certainly not holding it up high and walking around with it every day,” the state broadcaster said in a commentary posted on its Weibo page. “It’s a sense of identity from the bottom of one’s heart.”
“To athletes, winning is patriotism.”