Young speed skater Song Xingyu has been handed a 12-month ban from training and racing in response to his one-fingered salute to spectators at the 11th National Games last Sundayin Shenyang, in northeast China's Liaoning province.
While crossing the finish line of the 10,000m race, the final event of the men's speed skating all-around, the Heilongjiang province skater waved his middle finger at members of the crowd from rival Jilin province who were loudly claiming he had committed a foul.
Song will be banned from Jan 6 to the same date next year, according to a release by Heilongjiang provincial sports bureau yesterday.
"During the sanction period, Song should meditate on his mistake deeply and write a self-criticism," officials said.
Song, who later apologized to the spectators, went on to win the bronze at the all-around while Jilin's Sun Longjiang took gold.
"I apologize to all the spectators. I shouldn't have made that gesture," said the 20-year-old. "But I did it because some people attacked me verbally and abused my parents. I was furious."
Song claimed he had to compete to a chorus of chants urging him to "fall" over while someone beat a drum to disturb his performance.
"Since I was a strong contender for the gold medal, it affected me a lot," he said.
Some staff at the gymnasium conceded that "the drums could be very off-putting".
Several spectators said they were enraged by the skater's antics.
"We just reminded him that he made a foul by crossing the line, then he stuck up his middle finger, and did it again after the race," one Jilin support was quoted as saying by local media.
Officials vowed to work to educate athletes better following their investigation.
"We need to look into the matter and, if it is true, we will deal with it seriously," said Lan Li, vice director of China's Winter Sports Administrative Center. "We also hope spectators learn more about winter sports and create a friendly atmosphere for the competition."
(China Daily 01/07/2009 page23)