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Opinion

Medals taken away from Beijing half marathon runners following a contentious finish

The Beijing half marathon on Sunday saw controversy surrounding China’s He Jie’s success, and the organisers announced that the top three finishers had their medals revoked.

In an odd finish, he was the first to cross the line, appearing to have been given special permission to win by Ethiopian Dejene Hailu, Robert Keter, and Willy Mnangat of Kenya.

Video from the race’s finish went viral.

Over the span of slightly over 13 miles (21 km) through the streets of the Chinese capital, the four racers remained together.

However, He, the gold medallist in the marathon at the 2023 Asian Games, prevailed by a mere second, as his alleged competitors seemed to slack down as they neared the finish.

“Today the 2024 Beijing Half Marathon Organising Committee issued a decision on the investigation and handling of the men’s race results,” a state media report said on Friday.

“The trophies, medals and bonuses will be recovered,” it said.

All four were “punished” and their results cancelled, China’s state broadcaster CCTV reported.

Mnangat told the BBC that the African trio were pacemakers, although their bibs did not say that.

The race investigation said Mnangat, Keter and Hailu had not been properly registered as pacemakers for He, so their actions on the finish line breached competition rules.

The national governing body for athletics will take action to “standardise commercialised road-running competitions”, CCTV said in a separate report on Friday.

“The Chinese Athletic Association will start from institutional regulations to further strengthen the supervision, guidance and services of road running events,” the broadcaster said.

The association will “urge… committees at all levels to draw lessons from the experience, heighten their sense of responsibility… and ensure the healthy development of events”, it said.

– ‘Negative impact’ –
The fallout from the race received significant attention on Chinese social media, with many Weibo users praising Friday’s announcement.

“This is the attitude our society should have towards cheating,” wrote Hu Xijin, a popular nationalist commentator, on the platform.

“The reputations of individuals who seek profit from fakery have been damaged, while the relevant institutions have been even more discredited. They have reaped what they sowed,” he said.

Sports blogger Sun Yuxuan wrote: “This was supposed to be… a chance for some good publicity, but things had to end up this way, and now the negative impact will linger for a long time.”

Long-distance and marathon running has boomed in recent years among China’s middle class but there have been numerous cases of cheating and poor organisation.

At a half marathon in the southern city of Shenzhen in 2018, 258 runners were found to have cheated, including many who took shortcuts.

Traffic cameras caught them darting through trees to join a different part of the race.

In 2019, a woman was filmed riding a green rental bike in the Xuzhou International Marathon in eastern China.

She was ordered by race officials to dismount the bike, only to get back on again afterwards.

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