Champion of Beijing Half Marathon mired in controversy of race rigging

He Jie crosses the finish line of Beijing Half Marathon on April 14, 2024. Photo: VCG

He Jie crosses the finish line of Beijing Half Marathon on April 14, 2024. Photo: VCG

He Jie, men’s champion of the 2024 Beijing Half Marathon (BHM) on Sunday, has been entangled in controversy as he allegedly won the race thanks to three African contenders letting him cross the finish line first. The incident is still under investigation, said one of the event partners on Monday.

The 25-year-old Chinese runner won the marathon with a time of 1 hour, 3 minutes and 44 seconds, a mere second ahead of Ethiopian Dejene Bikila and Kenyans Robert Keter and Willy Mnangat.

However, footage of the race shows that He was behind the three African runners down the final stretch. Instead of sprinting to the finish line, the three African contenders were seen to look back and waved He out in front while appearing to slow down. He, the national marathon record holder, eventually overtook them and won the race by one second.

Xtep, one of the event partners of the BHM, said on Monday that investigations are underway and further information will be provided as soon as possible.

“We have received reports from the residents and are investigating the incident. We will keep the public informed of the updates,” said an official from the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Sports after the race.

The incident has sparked heated discussion on X-like Sina Weibo with many netizens questioning the fairness and authenticity of the event. 

“The race is a disregard to the meaning of sportsmanship. It is not only disrespectful to other athletes, but also profanes the spirit of sports,” said a netizen on Weibo.

On April 12, the General Administration of Sport (GAS) released the “Management Measures for Sports Event Conduct and Discipline,” emphasizing that justice and discipline is the lifeline of sports and a crucial link in the construction of a healthy sports development ambience. 

The GAS maintains a “zero tolerance” towards issues regarding violations of sports conducts and disciplines, aiming to further increase supervision and punishment from the root and institutional levels and purify the environment for sports development.

This spring, numerous cities across China have seen marathons enter full bloom. About 40 marathon events took place in China during the last weekend of March with more events slated to escalate the road running craze in April. 

Both the Wuxi Marathon in East China’s Jiangsu Province and the Wuhan Marathon in Central China’s Hubei Province have set new records with registration numbers of more than 260,000 people.

During the Wuxi Marathon held on March 24, He Jie broke the men’s national marathon record with a time of 2 hours, 6 minutes and 57 seconds.

While professional athletes push their limits and amateur participants pursue physical fitness, the fervor of marathon events has largely spurred the local economies around the host cities, offering a fresh catalyst to local development in culture and tourism.

Second-tier artistic swimming squad grabs 6 golds at World Cup

Photo: Courtesy of organizers

Photo: Courtesy of organizers

Team China totaled six gold and three silver medals at the Beijing stop of the World Aquatics artistic swimming World Cup, with the young Chinese athletes setting their sights on a major international stage.

Although Team China did not win any gold medals in three events on Sunday, two silver medals are enough to keep the team at the top of the medal table in a competition that attracted nearly 100 elite artistic swimmers from 14 countries and regions.

Among the 11 medal events at stake, host China competed in all the events, but the top-level swimmers of the national team only participated in the Team Free event, while the second-tier national team members competed across the rest of the 10 events.

Sisters Wang Liuyi and Wang Qianyi, reigning world champions, are the new faces in China’s Team Free squad. Guo Muye, aged 15, is the youngest athlete in the squad but contributed one gold medal in the mixed duet technical with 15-year-old partner Ji Heyue and one silver medal in men’s solo technical. 

“For the first-team athletes, it is important to build upon the foundation of the worlds and make adjustments based on the revised rules, including artistic impressions and difficulty of execution,” China’s head coach Zhang Xiaohuan told reporters. 

“We are also looking forward to receiving valuable feedback from the judges in this competition. We hope to receive better recognition in terms of artistic impressions.”

Team China achieved its best-ever performance at the worlds this year, winning seven golds, one silver, and one bronze medals across 11 events at the world championships in Doha in February.

As the Olympics approach this year, international events are considered one of the best ways to evaluate athletes’ training results. Zhang remains cautious about China’s prospect at the Paris Olympics. 

“Some moves that were possible in Doha will not be seen again,” Zhang told reporters, referring to the rule modifications in the sport. “This change presents a challenge for the team.”

She noted, however, that Chinese athletes are far from getting complacent in the sport. 

“Our team currently has a strong sense of crisis and we need to set higher standards for ourselves,” Zhang noted. 

“Our main focus at this stage is to improve the quality of our routines under the revised new rules and to prevent injuries and illnesses for the athletes.”

Swimmer Wu Jingyan is among the second-tier squad members who debuted at the World Cup. She told the Global Times that having the opportunity to compete in international competitions motivates her to put even more effort into training. 

“It is a great honor to represent China in such an international competition,” the 24-year-old said after Sunday’s Team Acrobatic race. “Participation in the events helped us identify where there is room for improvement, and I think it will boost the whole team to train ­harder.”

The Water Cube, the venue for swimming events of the 2008 Summer Olympics and redesigned for curling events for the 2022 Winter Olympics, is one of the prominent aquatics venues in China. 

The World Aquatics Artistic Swimming World Cup 2024 series has four legs this season. After the Beijing event, the series will travel to Paris in France from May 3 to 5, then Markham, Canada, from May 31 to June 2, followed by a Super Final in Budapest, Hungary, from July 5 to 7.

Team China is expected to send their first-team squad to the Paris leg of the event, as the venue of the World Cup event, which was unveiled earlier this week, will also be the venue for the Paris Olympics. 

Beijing has previously hosted 35 World Aquatics events, including two editions each of the artistic swimming World Cup events in 2018 and 2019. The city will host the World Aquatics Championships in 2029.