Chinese mountain marathon deaths spark wave of grievances – Radio Free Asia

China’s leading sports body has called on organizers to step up security measures after 21 ultramarathon runners died in adverse weather conditions in a mountainous region of western Gansu province over the weekend.

The General Sports Administration made the comments amid widespread criticism of the company that organized the Yellow River Stone Forest Mountain Ultramarathon, which was marred by the deaths of 21 runners in the running a 100 kilometer (60 mile) trail in the midst of hail and freezing rain. and strong winds.

As of 9:30 a.m. as of Sunday, 151 were unharmed, while eight had sustained minor injuries. The bodies of 21 people were recovered from the trail.

Among them were top cross-country runner Liang Jing and Paralympic marathon star Huang Guanjun.

Local officials apologized to the families of those who died and said the deaths were caused by “a sudden change in local weather conditions.”

The race was organized by Gansu Shengjing Sports Culture Development Co., a company with just 22 employees and interests spanning the manufacturing, environment, agriculture and facilities management sectors.

The based in Guangzhou Nanfang Daily The newspaper said that the ratio of staff to attendees of such events was generally at least 1: 5, but Shengjing Sports had tried to hold the event with just 22 employees and 172 runners.

“Mountain cross-country marathons are riskier and more difficult than urban road events, and require a much higher staff-to-participant ratio,” the newspaper said in a post on the social media platform Weibo.

“Even if the 22 people were involved in the management of this event, how would they be able to forecast the weather, manage the supply stations in a scientific way, completely review the rescue plans or carry out rescues? ‘timely emergency?’ said the newspaper.

He said the stage of the race between the second and third check-in points was the most difficult section, climbing 1,000 meters over eight kilometers, yet no staff, refueling stations or tents were set up there. .

He said mandatory equipment inspections were not carried out in accordance with regulations, while lifesaving equipment was not considered mandatory.

Many have turned around

Many runners turned around out of fear for their personal safety on this section, according to the newspaper.

“Of the top six runners who chose to continue the race, only one was rescued by a shepherd and survived,” he said. “Most of the riders who died descended between checkpoints two and four.”

“If the race had been called off in time, many lives could have been saved,” the newspaper said.

In the comments under the newspaper’s post on Weibo, user @ face-to-face_hermit commented: “All of these competitions are just one way for the organizers to make money,” while @the_wind_blows_away_pensts_of_you said that the organizers should be left on the mountainside without help for a few hours to go through the agony of the runners.

“Shivering everywhere, passing out … dying with the feeling that no one cares,” the user wrote.

“Shouldn’t the organizers be punished for this?” added user @ the-zcy.

A member of the China Mountaineering Association, nicknamed Wang, said that a high-altitude event of more than two kilometers should ideally consist of more than 500 people.

“The technical specifications of an event like this should be strictly followed, but since this event was a local government sponsored event, investments were very limited,” Wang said.

“Plus, they didn’t hire professionals to do some of the tasks,” Wang said.

An editorial in the Beijing News said organizers of marathons, which are extremely popular in China, are often more interested in attracting a large number of competitors and making money than in safety issues.

“In short, the needs and enthusiasm of popular sports must be met and taken care of, but events must not ‘break loose’ at the expense of safety,” the newspaper said.

Rescuers carry a stretcher to the site where extreme cold killed participants in a 100 km marathon race in Baiyin, Gansu province, China on May 22, 2021 Photo: Reuters

Marathon fever ‘

China is in the grip of marathon fever, with figures released by the Chinese Athletics Association (CAA) showing that there are 40 times more marathon events in 2018 than in 2014 in China.

Large-scale events like the Shanghai Marathon regularly welcoming tens of thousands of runners.

State broadcaster CCTV said the deaths in Gansu should serve as a “wake-up call” to the organizers of such events.

“Route planning, security guarantees, medical preparations, emergency relief, food supplies, etc., must be precise and foolproof,” the state broadcaster said in a broadcast commentary.

Survivors told state media the weather must be between 9 and 24C and around 18C for much of the day.

Survivor Wang Jinmin said he lost all sensation in his limbs after his emergency blanket was snatched from his hands by high winds.

“The wind was so strong; I just watched [the blanket] fly out of my hands, ”Wang said. I lost all my strength and had no feeling in my hands or feet. “

Rescuers said participants were particularly vulnerable, wearing only short-sleeved running clothes and shorts when soaked in freezing rain and battered by strong winds, resulting in hypothermia, shock and muscle cramps. .

A Hong Kong veteran said the races in his city had also seen harsh weather conditions, including freezing over the city’s highest peak, Tai Mo Shan, during the 2016 HK100 race, with runners stranded on the mountain for several hours.

But tighter safety rules and better equipment have prevented worse tragedies so far, Wong Ho-Chung told RFA.

“Most athletes don’t see trail running as a particularly dangerous activity, but we should always keep in mind respect for the forces of nature, which cannot be controlled,” said Wong. “It is impossible to predict sudden winds, rain and thunderstorms.”

A man receives treatment at a Jingtai County hospital after extremely cold temperatures killed participants in a 100 km marathon race in Baiyin, Gansu province, China on May 22, 2021. Photo: Reuters

Suggestions of corruption

Some media reports have also suggested that local officials could have taken some of the funds that could have been spent on race equipment and personnel as personal payments.

Appeals to the Jingtai County Government’s Propaganda Department and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) ruling county committee, both of which were involved in sponsoring the race, went unanswered during office hours on Monday.

A local reporter by the name of Wu said it was an open secret that large-scale events like marathons were a source of income for local officials.

“There are so many scams,” Wu said. “Otherwise, why would so many corrupt officials organize… big events like this?”

“There were only two volunteers at checkpoints two and three, and there was no drinking water, warm clothes or tents,” he said. “That’s all you need to know, really.”

Reported by Xiaoshan Huang and Chingman for Cantonese service of RFA and by Chung Yut-yiu for Mandarin service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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