WATCH: Beijing Half Marathon Ends in Controversy

By Billy Jiang, April 17, 2024

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The Beijing half marathon, held on April 14, has sparked controversy after China's He Jie won the men's race amidst allegations of manipulation by African competitors.

Video showing Beijing Half Marathon Finish. Video via 精英跑者elite/Sina Weibo

Video footage from the event showed Kenyan runners Robert Keter and Willy Mnangat, along with Ethiopian Dejene Hailu Bikila, seemingly slowing down and gesturing towards the finish line, allowing He Jie to overtake and claim victory. 

Interestingly, in the live broadcast footage, the host marveled at the apparent harmony among the four athletes, noting their consistent proximity and seemingly seamless communication throughout the race. 

"They've got great chemistry," remarked the live broadcast host, "always sticking together, communicating – could this be a form of mutual encouragement among competitors?"

The quartet, who had been running together throughout the race, then crossed the finish line side by side, with the Africans dropping back to let He Jie finish first.

These actions raised suspicions among spectators and online commentators, with many questioning whether the African athletes were acting as pacemakers for He Jie, effectively ensuring his victory. 

Chinese social media users criticized the result, expressing doubts about the fairness of the race.

In response to the allegations, Mnangat clarified to BBC Sport Africa that the trio of African runners were indeed contracted to assist He Jie in his attempt to break the Chinese half-marathon record. 

Mnangat explained that one of the runners did not finish the race, and their role was not to compete but to support He Jie's record-breaking attempt.

However, He Jie fell short of breaking the record, finishing with a time of 1:03:44, just three seconds short of the Beijing Half Marathon Chinese record of 1:03:41, set by Yang Kegu in 2023.

The supporting trio finished one second behind He, all three tied for second place. 

This outcome further fueled speculation about the integrity of the race.

Both event organizers and Xstep, the Chinese sports brand sponsoring the event and with whom He Jie has a contract, have stated that they are investigating the incident. 

The Beijing Sports Bureau assured the public that the results of the investigation would be made public once they are available.

The controversy has raised questions about the fairness of competitive sports events and the role of sponsors in athlete performance. 

As investigations continue, the integrity of future races remains a focal point for organizers and participants alike.

For more updates on this developing story and other sports news, stay tuned to our WeChat official account, ThatsBeijing.

[Cover image via CNR Sina Weibo]

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