Disturbing details arise after 21 killed in Chinese ultramarathon

·4-min read

Disturbing new details have emerged about the ultramarathon in China which claimed the lives of 21 runners due to extreme cold weather.

The 100km race began on Saturday from a scenic area at a bend in the Yellow River known for its sheer cliffs and rock columns. 

The route would take runners through canyons and hills on an arid plateau at an elevation of over 1000 metres.

Rescuers in China say a number of people have died and others are missing in extreme weather during a mountain marathon cross-country race in the country's northwest. Source: Xinhua via AP
Rescuers in China say a number of people have died and others are missing in extreme weather during a mountain ultramarathon race in the country's northwest. Source: Xinhua via AP

The race kicked off at 9am, with runners clad in t-shirts and shorts under overcast skies, according to photographs posted on the social media account of the Yellow River Stone Forest area in Jingtai, a county under the jurisdiction of Baiyin city.

Officials confirmed by noon on Saturday, hail, freezing rain and gales that caused temperatures to plummet hit a section of the race.

Ultramarathon runners 'foaming at the mouth'

Mao Shuzhi was about 24km into the 100km race when the wild weather hit. She told Reuters the rain was getting heavier, she was shivering due to the cold.

She decided to turn back before the high-altitude section of the race, having previously had bad experiences with hypothermia.

"At first I was a bit regretful, thinking it might have just been a passing shower, but when I saw the strong winds and rains later through my hotel room window, I felt so lucky that I made the decision," Mao said. 

Mao shared screenshots of a WeChat chatroom which she belongs to, which offered more details of what happened during the race.

Many of the runners had suffered from hypothermia and had lost their way in the strong winds and heavy rain, according to the screenshots.

"The wind is too strong, our thermal blankets have been torn to bits," a runner wrote in the chatroom according to Reuters.

"A few are unconscious and are foaming at the mouth," another runner said.

One runner shared their experience on WeChat, through an account called Living in the South, detailing their experience.

They explained it was sunny the morning of the race, but the sky quickly became overcast and the wind picked up.

This runner tried to warm up by running 2km before the start of the race.

"This is something I have never done before. What's more troublesome is that after running these two kilometres, my body didn't heat up," they said.

Jingtai county saw a low of 6 degrees on Saturday excluding wind chill.

In this photo provided by China's Xinhua News Agency, rescuers walk into the accident site to search for survivors in Jingtai County of Baiyin City.
More than 20 people running a mountain ultra-marathon have died in northwestern China after hail, freezing rain and gale-force winds hit the high-altitude race. Source: Fan Peishen/Xinhua via AP

China calls for changes in sports community

Over 1200 rescuers were dispatched to aid with the rescue effort, though a landslide hampered the rescue, which was already difficult due to the low temperatures and the complex rain and topography.

By early Sunday, rescuers found 21 dead, including the last of the five missing following an all-night search that involved more than 700 personnel.

A total of 172 people had joined the race and 151 were confirmed to be safe. Some were treated for minor injuries and were stable, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, an emergency vehicle drives toward the Yellow River Stone Forest tourist site in Baiyin in northwestern China's Gansu Province, Sunday, May 23, 2021. Rescuers in China say a number of people have died and others are missing in extreme weather during a mountain marathon cross-country race in the country's northwest. (Guo Gang/Xinhua via AP)
More than 1,200 rescuers were at the site, following the extreme weather to rescue those participating in the race. Source: Guo Gang/Xinhua via AP

Following the deaths, China's General Administration of Sport has asked the sports system to enhance existing safety management in sports races, the Global Times reported.

Baiyin Mayor Zhang Xuchen held a news conference later on Sunday and profoundly apologised as the organiser of the event.

“We express deep condolences and sympathy to the families of the victims and the injured,” the mayor said.

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