China marathon: Officials punished over runner deaths

Rescuers carry a stretcher at the site of the ultra-marathon race in Gansu


Authorities in China have punished 27 government officials over the deaths of 21 ultra-marathon runners last month.

Athletes taking part in the 100km (60-mile) ultramarathon in Gansu province were hit by high winds and freezing rains.

According to state media, those who died had suffered from hypothermia.

In the wake of the incident, China announced it was suspending all high risk sports events lacking clear oversight, rules and safety standards.

A report into the race, released on Friday, said “non-standard and unprofessional event operations led to the accident”.

Following the report’s release, state-run media outlet Xinhua announced that the head of Jingtai County, where the race took place, had been removed from her post.

The local mayor and the Communist Party chief of the city of Baiyin have also been disciplined. Other officials were given warnings and demerit ratings.

Zhang Xiaoyan, owner of the company that organised the race, has been detained and faces criminal charges.

Separately, the government has also announced that Jingtai Party Chief Li Zuobi died in what Xinhua described as an apparent suicide.

What happened to the runners?

The ill-fated race took place in Yellow River Stone Forest, a tourist site in Gansu province, on 22 May.

Runners set off at 09:00 local time (01:00 GMT), with some wearing just shorts and T-shirts.

Surviving participants said the forecast had predicted some wind and rain, but nothing as extreme as what they experienced.


About three hours after the start, a mountainous section of the race was hit by hail, heavy rain and gales, causing temperatures to plummet, according to officials from the nearby Baiyin city.

Many runners reportedly lost their way as the weather affected visibility.

More than 1,200 rescuers were deployed, assisted by thermal-imaging drones and radar detectors, according to state media.

Relatives of those who died have described facing pressure from local officials who are trying to stop families from speaking out about the incident.

Huang Yinzhen, who lost her sister Huang Yinbin in the race, told the New York Times: “They just prevent us from contacting other family members or reporters, so they keep monitoring us.”

She added that her family had been offered a settlement of 950,000 yuan (£105,188, $145,000) which they had refused to accept.