Beijing - 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
When a runner suffered a heart attack and collapsed 4.5
kilometres (three miles) from the finish line, at first it seemed like a tragic
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 December 10 event were
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 organisers.
"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.
Organisers 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.
Also read: 2 runners die after collapsing in China half-marathon
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 organisers 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 colours for male and female runners
are different. Anyone who was not colour-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
realised 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 popularity 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 organisers 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
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