Dead China run­ner re­veals marathon cheats

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

Think­ing of com­pet­ing in a marathon but put off by the dis­tance? Easy. Pay some­one to run it for you. The death of a run­ner in a half marathon in China’s south­east­ern city of Xi­a­men this month has high­lighted an un­ex­pected form of cheat­ing. When a run­ner suf­fered a heart attack and col­lapsed 4.5 km from the fin­ish line, at first it seemed like a tragic death. But a sub­se­quent in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­vealed that the vic­tim was ac­tu­ally run­ning on be­half of some­one else.

The trick­ster has since been given a life ban from com­pet­ing in the event, the Xinhua news agency re­ported on Sun­day. Ac­cord­ing to the Beijing Youth Daily, 30 of the 18,000 peo­ple who had reg­is­tered to par­tic­i­pate in the Dec 10 event were dis­qual­i­fied. Rea­sons for the bans were not given, but the pa­per said high school stu­dents were told they could earn cred­its to­wards univer­sity en­trance ex­am­i­na­tions if they fin­ished in the top 100 places in the race, hint­ing at one pos­si­ble mo­tive for cheat­ing.

Crit­ics took to so­cial me­dia to attack the cheats while oth­ers blamed race or­ga­niz­ers. “With­out any sys­tem­atic train­ing or willpower, what they want is to take photos and tell the world on so­cial me­dia that they are lead­ing a fash­ion­ably ‘healthy’ life,” Xinhua quoted a poster named Chiphell as say­ing on one mi­croblog­ging site. Or­ga­niz­ers ac­knowl­edged that it was pos­si­ble for a non-run­ner to pick up an­other per­son’s bib, partly to help out-of-town­ers who may not be able to do so in per­son. “Trad­ing of num­ber bibs is banned, but it is also hard to de­tect,” a com­mit­tee mem­ber told Xinhua. Such cheat­ing is not en­tirely new. In 2010, some run­ners in the Xi­a­men marathon were dis­qual­i­fied for cov­er­ing part of the route by bus. Xinhua quoted one marathon run­ner sur­named Liu as say­ing he had wit­nessed all kinds of cheat­ing at races. Those who failed to get a num­ber in the lot­tery could buy one from lucky reg­is­trants or sim­ply take their chances by mix­ing into the crowd on the race track, he said. Oth­ers who wanted a fin­isher’s cer­tifi­cate but did not want to ac­tu­ally com­plete the race would ei­ther have some­one else run for them or take short­cuts on the course, he said.

Turn­ing a blind eye

“The or­ga­niz­ers should first be blamed for the chaos,” an­other run­ner named Gao told Xinhua. “Once I saw a man run­ning with a woman’s num­ber bib. The bib col­ors for male and fe­male run­ners are dif­fer­ent. Any­one who was not color-blind could eas­ily spot it, but all the ref­er­ees along the route just turned a blind eye.” The tac­tic re­calls the case of un­re­mark­able Cuban run­ner Rosie Ruiz who won the Bos­ton marathon in 1980 be­fore sus­pi­cious of­fi­cials re­al­ized she had taken the sub­way for part of the race and emerged from a sta­tion not far from the fin­ish line.

Long-dis­tance run­ning has be­come in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar in China since the coun­try’s first marathon was held in Beijing in 1981. More than 300 events are now held a year, ac­cord­ing to the Chi­nese Ath­let­ics Association, de­spite the kind of air pol­lu­tion that in 2014 forced run­ners to com­pete in Beijing wear­ing face masks in chok­ing con­di­tions. While some say the surge in popu- lar­ity is due to the in­creas­ing de­sire to be seen to have a healthy life­style, oth­ers sus­pect the trend is driven by want­ing to score so­cial me­dia points rather than love of the sport, Xinhua said.

It said that 14 peo­ple have died in marathons over the past three years, in­clud­ing the sub­sti­tute run­ner in Xi­a­men this month and an­other com­peti­tor in the same race, who col­lapsed af­ter the fin­ish line. Most of the dead were un­der 35, it said. Xi­a­men’s race or­ga­niz­ers re­acted to the deaths by ap­peal­ing for ath­letes to abide by the rules. “We call on all run­ners to bear the spirit of sports­man­ship and run by the rules. Any­one who breaches the rules will face se­vere pun­ish­ment.” — AFP

XI­A­MEN, China: This photo taken on Dec 10, 2016 shows run­ners tak­ing part in the half marathon in eastern China’s Fu­jian prov­ince. — AFP

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