Runners at ‘fixed’ half marathon disqualified after winner gifted race

The winner of Beijing’s half marathon He Jie and three African runners have had their results cancelled after an investigation found that the three slowed down near the line allowing the Chinese athlete to finish first, organisers said on Friday.

He had won the race held last Sunday in China’s capital in a time of 1:03:44, a second ahead of Ethiopian Dejene Hailu Bikila, and Kenyans Robert Keter and Willy Mnangat, who tied for third place.

The organising committee said in a statement that the three African runners “actively slowed down in the last 2 kilometres and as a result He Jie won the men’s championship.”

All trophies, medals and bonuses will be withdrawn and the athletes will be reported to the Chinese Athletics Association, it said.

Race operator, the Zhongao Lupao Beijing Sports Management company, will also be disqualified from hosting and operating the Beijing half marathon, the committee added.

Mnangat told the BBC that the trio ran as pacemakers and were not competing.

However, the committee said pacers would not have been allowed to participate as specially invited athletes without organisers’ approval.

The Zhongao Lupao Beijing Sports Management company said its partner Xiamen Xtep Investment, a unit of Hong Kong listed Xtep, failed to note the relevant pacer information, which led to the organising committee not being informed.

“Our company has unshirkable responsibility and would like to experience our sincere apologies to all runners.” He has been sponsored by Xtep since 2021 according to its website.

Xtep said staff had made a mistake during the registration process and did not identify the pacers.

“We bear a great responsibility and fully accept the punishment decision made by the organising committee,” Xtep said in a statement.

He was slightly behind the three African runners as they approached the end of the race but they slowed down and waved the Chinese athlete ahead as they gestured towards the finish line. The four had run together throughout the race of just over 13 miles.

The finish drew widespread scepticism with some social media users commentating that the result was “embarrassing” for He, a member of China’s marathon team and national record holder.

Long distance running races are increasingly popular in China but have a chequered history of cheating and poor organisation. In Shenzhen’s 2018 half marathon 258 participants were caught cheating, most of whom had taken shortcuts while some wore fake bibs and others were impostors.

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