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Rio Olympics 2016: German twins' hand-hold divides nation

Anna Hahner (L) of Germany and her sister Lisa Hahner approach the finish line during the Women's Marathon on Day 9 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Sambodromo on 14 August 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Image copyright All Sport/Getty Images

A betrayal or celebration of sporting ideals? German twins crossed the finish line in Rio smiling and holding hands, and have divided their home nation.

Anna and Lisa Hahner came 81st and 82nd in Sunday's women's marathon.

They were accused of trivialising the Games by a senior German athletics official but there was some sympathy for them on social media.

The women themselves admit any publicity is welcome, as they receive no public funding.

The Hahners defended their performance in a Facebook post (in German) on Monday, saying they had done their best.

"Definitely not what we had hoped for.... Nevertheless, one of our greatest sporting moments. For this we had trained to our limit and sometimes beyond."

However, their performance was more than 21 minutes behind the winning time and 15 minutes short of their personal bests.

In an email to the New York Times, Anna insisted that they crossed the finish line together by chance, calling it a "magical moment".

They have defended their self-promotion, saying they receive "zero euros funding" from the German Athletics Association.

But their conduct was heavily criticised by German officials.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption As well as the German twins, Estonian triplets took part in the marathon. But North Korean twins beat them all
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The twins defend their zeal for self-promotion, saying they receive little financial support for their sport

"It looked as though they completed a fun run and not [an] Olympic [race]," German Athletics Federation director Thomas Kurschilgen told reporters.

He argued that it was "disrespectful and a slap in the face to all the other athletes in the German team".

Public relations should not come before the interest of the national team, he argued.

Newspaper columnists joined in the fray.

"If the Hahners want to cross the finish line together, beaming and holding hands, then they can do that all they like - in a local fun run in St Polten or the Miss Plaits run in Solingen", jeered Lars Wallrodt, a columnist at daily national newspaper Die Welt (in German).

And the twins would be the first to admit they are big on PR, devoting a YouTube channel to themselves.

In particular, the identical twins have been reprimanded for stealing the spotlight from the other German in the race, Anja Scherl, who finished in 44th place.

'Losing in style'

However, some observers have defended the pair.

"It all seems rather over the top," commented sports website Le Buzz. "Who knows what their repercussions will be in the long run, but are moments like this not what the Olympics are about?

"If you cannot achieve Olympic glory, why not lose in style, we say."

A (non-scientific) online poll by Germany's Sport1 website (in German) found participants roughly divided over their response to the hand-hold.

The twins also attracted some support on social media.

Image copyright Twitter
Image copyright Twitter
Image copyright Twitter
Image caption Lucas Gerrits tweeted: Germany on the way to "moral policeman" gold
Image copyright Twitter
Image caption Ailton. Nicht tweeted: Who of the whingers and whiners has qualified for the Olympic marathon, and ranked at least 80, let them cast the first stone!

Meanwhile, other onlookers have noted that these were not the only twins to finish together in Sunday's race - North Korea's Kim Hye-song and Kim Hye-gyong finished 10th and 11th.

And Estonia had triplets taking part. Leila, Lily and Liina Luik did not finish together but two of them were behind the Hahners and one failed to reach the line.

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