Beijing Race Under Scrutiny As Video Suggests Runners Helped Chinese Winner

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After a grueling hour, there was little to separate the four runners as the finish line approached. But then, one extended his hand toward another and gestured, as if waving him forward. Seconds later, another runner did the same.

He Jie of China then strode ahead of the others, a recorded livestream of Sunday’s Beijing Half Marathon shows. The other three runners — Willy Mnangat and Robert Keter from Kenya, and Dejene Hailu from Ethiopia — fell into place just behind him, following from a short distance as He claimed first place.

The results of the half-marathon are now under investigation by the race’s organizers, after footage of the finish circulated online and led many to question whether the three African runners had deliberately slowed down.

He took first place with a time of 1 hour 3 minutes 44 seconds. Mnangat, Keter and Hailu tied for second place, one second later.

The four athletes ran in a group for much of the race, the livestream showed, ahead of the rest of the pack, with the African runners occasionally pulling slightly ahead.

But it was the final moments of the race, when Mnangat and Keter both appeared to gesture to He to run in front of the others, that raised questions.

The Beijing International Running Festival, which organized the event, said in a statement on Monday night that it had launched an investigation into the matter in response to online commentators’ “questions about the race’s results,” without naming the runners involved. The organizers had created “a special investigative team” to look into the matter, the statement said.

A spokeswoman for the Beijing Municipal Sports Bureau, the agency that oversees sports in the city, confirmed via phone on Tuesday morning that it was also investigating the race.

He did not immediately respond to a request for comment via Xtep, a sportswear company for which he is the spokesman. Keter and Hailu could not immediately be reached for comment.

Mnangat told The South China Morning Post that he was acting as a pacemaker — someone who runs along other athletes to help them maintain their speed but is not officially a competitor — for He. Mnangat did not immediately respond to a request for comment through his agent.

He, 25, is the 77th-ranked men’s marathoner globally, according to World Athletics. Last year, he won the Asian Games men’s marathon, and last month, he set a Chinese national record when he finished the Wuxi Marathon in 2:06:57.

This is not the first time distance runners in China have faced accusations of cheating, as the popularity of long distance running has surged in the country.

In 2018, 258 participants were penalized for cheating in the Shenzhen Half Marathon, with organizers accusing them of wearing fake bib numbers, hiring imposters and taking shortcuts, according to Chinese state media.

And in 2019, female runners were caught riding bikes in the Xuzhou International Marathon and the Chengdu Women’s Half Marathon.

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