A pair of volunteers handing out the Chinese flag effectively ruined a runner’s shot at winning a marathon in eastern China on Sunday.
He Xianli had been leading the last 500 meters at the Suzhou Taihu Marathon when the volunteers threw her off rhythm, China News reported.
He started losing pace at one intersection after a volunteer tried to give her the national flag.
When she refused to accept it, the volunteer chased her in vain, already meddling with the ongoing race.
But to make matters worse for He, another volunteer appeared just near the finish line and attempted to give her another flag.
At this point, He took the flag but dropped it seconds later.
The interference, which apparently slowed He, enabled Ethiopian long-distance runner Ayantu Abera Demissie to sprint ahead and win the marathon by five seconds.
It is understood that He could have won the race if not for the volunteers.
A video of the tight match has since gone viral on Chinese social media, with many slamming the volunteers for throwing He off. Others criticized the event organizers for allowing such volunteers in the first place.
However, nationalistic netizens reportedly took a jab at He for dropping the flag, insisting that she should have held on to it no matter what.
In response, He apologized and explained that she did not drop the flag on purpose.
“I didn’t throw it away, the flag was all soaked and my arms were stiff,” He wrote. “It flew out as my arms were swaying. I’m sorry and I hope you can understand!”
Weibo users commented:
“The ‘volunteers’ are probably working undercover.”
“These volunteers are too stupid. How can they hand out the national flag just as when the runner was about to win?”
“The organizers of this event are a group of mentally-handicapped.”
“Can someone investigate who’s behind this? Two people handed the national flag and they obviously interfered in the race.”
“Organizers! Do you know how much time an athlete spends sweating in preparation for a game? And now you destroyed this opportunity [to win].”