Chinese half-marathon ‘winner’ shamed, stripped of medal after damning video exposes cheating

Admonishment was only the beginning of the backlash after a trio of runners appeared to let a Chinese competitor top them at a half marathon.

Success turned to shame Sunday at the Mengniu Beijing Half Marathon where the Asian nation’s top long-distance athlete vied to set a new national record. While He Jie fell short of attaining a new milestone, it was the questionable finish that ultimately led to him losing gold as well.

Video of the final moments of the race began circulating on the internet showing the tight pack far ahead of the rest of the runners including Robert Keter and Willy Mnangat of Kenya, Dejene Hailu of Ethiopia, and trailing just behind the three African athletes.

As they entered the final stretch, Keter could be seen guiding He to come around the trio that appeared to slow, allowing the Chinese runner to take the lead and, ultimately, the victory, in what many concluded was proof the Africans were “paid off to clearly let a Chinese guy win…They didn’t even seem tired after the run. The Chinese guy is winching, holding his knees. Pathetic.”

While an investigation was opened into the actions of the runners at the half marathon, Mnangat spoke with BBC Sport Africa and argued he and his peers had only entered the competition as pacesetters to help He attempt to break the Chinese 1:02.33 half marathon record — a mark he missed with a finish time of 1:03.44.

“I was not there to compete,” said Mnangat. “It was not a competitive race for me.”

“I don’t know why they put my name on my bib/chest number instead of labeling it as a pacemaker,” he added. “My job was to set the pace and help the guy win but unfortunately, he did not achieve the target, which was to break the national record.”

A fourth runner was said to have been with the pack as a pacesetter, but the other racer had been unable to complete the race.

“We deeply and sincerely apologize to the world and to every part of society, that we did not discover and correct the mistakes in time at this race,” came an apology from the committee behind the investigation that determined to retract the medals awarded to He and the trio of second-place finishers. Additionally, they were made to return their prize money, which amounted to $5,500 for first place.

World Athletics had reacted to BBC Sport before the results of the investigation were concluded and stated, “We are aware of the footage circulating online from the Beijing half marathon this weekend and understand an investigation is currently being conducted by the relevant local authorities.”

“The integrity of our sport is the highest priority at World Athletics, while this investigation is ongoing we are unable to provide further comment,” they had added.

Meanwhile, Chinese sports brand and race sponsor Xstep posted to the Chinese social media platform Weibo, “We bear a great responsibility for this, fully accept the punishment decision made by the organizing committee,” and vowed to “reflect seriously and conduct a deep review” to “ensure such incidents do not happen again in the future.”

In addition to assorted reactions to the race finish that included some arguing it was a commonplace feature of the sport and others decrying China for allegedly propelling their runner to victory, the event’s host, Zhong’ao Lupao Sports Management Co., lost the rights to continue running the race.

Kevin Haggerty

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