New rules established in wake of marathoner's unfortunate miscue

Wrapping themselves in the national flag is normally a proud and patriotic moment for runners-but not always.

Last Sunday, Chinese marathoner He Yinli faced the dilemma of embracing the flag or winning the race at the Suzhou Taihu Marathon in Suzhou, Jiangsu province.

While sprinting the final leg, trying to overtake Ethiopia's Ayantu Abera Demissie, He was handed a flag from a volunteer who rushed to her from the sideline.

According to the rules, no non-runners, including referees, can step onto the track during the race.

The 30-year-old He held the flag for a few seconds before dropping it to the ground, but in that short interval she lost her pace and finished runnerup to Demissie by five seconds.

As the event was broadcast live, the scene instantly triggered a fierce debate on China's social media. While most viewers criticized the race organizers for allowing a volunteer to interfere, some questioned He's response, believing the national flag should not be dropped under any circumstances.

After a week-long deliberation, the Chinese Athletic Association finally responded on Thursday, posting a statement on its website stressing the importance of maintaining a fair competitive environment and measures to prevent a repeat in future events.

According to the CAA's statement: 1) Organizers must strictly follow the rules of marathon and any ritual or celebration activity should not disrupt the principle of fair competition; 2) Organizers should report the content and form of promotional activities to the CAA for approval and risk prevention; 3) Effective contingency plans are needed.

Before the CAA's announcement, a member of the race organizer's staff told Beijing Youth Daily: "Wearing the national flag is a good thing which can cheer the spectators.

"However, that day it was raining and the track was wet and slippery, which caused the incident. We are truly sorry."

However, the organizer initially claimed the "volunteer's action was entirely an individual decision", according to Tencent Sports

Although stricter requirements are now in place, He is left to cope with the result..

"I can not assume I would for sure be the champion, but my pace in the final stage was disrupted," the runner told Sina Sports. "The extra movement slowed me down, which was a pity for me.

"I was in the leading group right from the start, running alongside the champion. I even overtook her for a while. When the incident happened, I had eye contact with the volunteer and tried to avoid taking the flag at that critical point.

"Both me and my rival were struggling in the final stage and I did not want my pace to be disrupted. The flag was too huge. I was afraid that I could step on and trip. So I rolled it and held it in my hand.

"The flag was wet and my arm was stiff, so it dropped to the ground."

Wei Jing, another Chinese marathoner, said on Weibo: "The video shows that He Yinli crumpled the flag and tossed it away-is the race result more important than the national flag?"

But it appears that He got the support of the majority, including China Central Television, which said on its official Weibo account "for athletes, real patriotism is winning."

The Communist Youth League of China also expressed support for He, posting an article titled "Forcing marathon runner to take national flag is a misunderstanding towards patriotism" on Weibo.

"First of all, the incident of Taihu marathon is a matter of violating sport rules and disrupting orders," said the article.

"The organizer failed to provide runners with effective protection. For athletes, the best patriotism is to win honor for the country. From that perspective, He Yinli tried her best, which deserve some praise."