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 21 die in Chinese ultramarathon suddenly struck by
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Jan J.

334 Posts

Posted - May 23 2021 :  17:49:13  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
The Washington Post May 23, 2021 at 3:59 p.m. EDT

Twenty-one people died Saturday in China while participating in an ultramarathon that was struck by drastic changes in weather, according to multiple reports.

Rescue work ended Sunday, per state-run Xinhua News Agency, after all 172 participants were accounted for, including eight who were treated with minor injuries.

The 100-kilometer (62-mile) cross-country event was held in high altitude at Yellow River Stone Forest Park in Gansu province. The ultramarathon began in pleasant conditions and many participants were lightly attired, per reports, but soon the temperature plunged amid strong wind, freezing rain and hail.

“At 1 p.m. on Saturday, the wind got stronger. It was hard to stand up straight and move forward. When the wind was the strongest, I had to grasp the ground with both my hands to avoid being blown over,” said a survivor, who requested anonymity.

“I felt nothing but cold at the time,” the participant said. “I just ran about 30 kilometers and quit the race ahead of the third checkpoint. I fainted halfway down the mountain.”

The race was called off after several hours, by which point a number of runners reached a particularly challenging stretch that climbed to upward of 6,500 feet above sea level. Hundreds of rescue personnel who reportedly took part in search operations found their efforts were impeded at times by the rugged terrain, a landslide and falling temperatures overnight.

Among the reported dead were two acclaimed distance runners: Liang Jing, a 31-year-old ultramarathon champion, and Huang Guanjun, who won the men’s hearing-impaired marathon at China’s 2019 National Paralympic Games.

“As the organizer of the event, we feel a deep sense of guilt and remorse. We express our deep condolences and sympathies to the bereaved families and the victims,” said Zhang Xuchen, the mayor of host city Baiyin, who fired the starting pistol.

The deaths reportedly sparked outrage on Chinese social media, with questions about whether organizers paid enough attention to differing forecasts or made sufficient contingency plans.

“At around noon, the high-altitude section of the race between 20 and 31 kilometers was suddenly affected by disastrous weather,” Zhang said at a briefing. “In a short period of time, hailstones and ice rain suddenly fell in the local area, and there were strong winds. The temperature sharply dropped.”

Six participants were aided by a local shepherd who guided them to a cave dwelling, per the Paper of Shanghai. Other local villagers brought quilted blankets to help warm runners, many of whom were suffering from hypothermia.

“The rain was getting heavier and heavier,” runner Mao Shuzhi, who said she turned back after approximately 24 kilometers because she feared the prospect of hypothermia, told Reuters.

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

Jan J.

334 Posts

Posted - May 24 2021 :  21:41:58  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
The New York Times, May 24 2021

By Alexandra Stevenson and Cao Li

I Owe Him My Life’: Chinese Runner Describes Mountain Rescue
After 21 runners died when high winds and freezing rain struck an ultramarathon race, one competitor said he survived only because a shepherd carried his unconscious body to shelter.

The day began in jittery anticipation as 172 Lycra-clad runners jumped up and down at the starting line of the 62-mile mountain race in Gansu Province, China. Zhang Xiaotao noticed the wind as it blew the hats off some of his competitors. It was an early sign of the challenge ahead.

A few hours later, Mr. Zhang, 30, would be lying unconscious on the rugged mountain, according to a written account that he shared on Chinese social media.

Mr. Zhang, a sports blogger, was among the group of survivors who were rescued when whipping rain turned to hail and temperatures plummeted hours into the ultramarathon on Saturday. More than 1,200 rescuers were dispatched to find bodies in the storm. Twenty-one runners died, many of them after suffering from hypothermia.

According to his account, Mr. Zhang began to climb the toughest part of the race when icy rain and hail fell harder and obscured his view. “It kept hitting my face and my eyes began to blur, and I couldn’t see the road clearly,” he wrote.

The wind grew so strong that he slipped and fell nearly a dozen times until he could no longer pick himself up and eventually passed out. He woke up in a cave, wrapped in a quilt next to a fire built by a shepherd who had found him and carried him to safety.

“I owe him my life,” Mr. Zhang wrote.

Local government officials who organized the ultramarathon at the Yellow River Stone Forest Park said that the tragedy had been caused by a sudden and unpredictable change in the weather that occurred a few hours into the race when runners were climbing 6,500 feet above sea level to the 12-mile mark.

ImageA runner receiving treatment at a hospital on Sunday after surviving the ultramarathon. Some state news media have raised questions about the decision not to cancel the race.

By Sunday evening, the higher provincial government in Gansu, a northwestern province, had set up a team to investigate the deaths. Some state news media have raised questions about the decision not to cancel the race and what could have been done to prevent the loss of life. Zhang Xuchen, the mayor of the nearby city of Baiyin who had fired the starting pistol, apologized on national television and bowed as he expressed his sorrow for those who had died.

Mr. Zhang could easily have been one of them.

Shortly before he began to stumble up the mountain, Mr. Zhang overtook Huang Guanjun, the champion of the men’s marathon for hearing-impaired runners at the 2019 Chinese National Paralympic Games. As Mr. Zhang was passing, Mr. Huang pointed to his ear and waved to indicate he could not hear Mr. Zhang.

“Later I found out that he was deaf and mute,” Mr. Zhang wrote. Mr. Huang died on the same mountain pass not long after the encounter.

The race at Yellow River Stone Forest Park was popular with extreme athletes for whom running the length of more than two marathons can be a monthly event.

But the deaths, by far the most to occur during a single race, highlight the persistent danger that ultrarunning poses, even to veterans of the sport, which attracts thousands of newcomers each year.

At the same time, as ultrarunning and trail racing has gained popularity during the past two decades, leaders of the sport have continued to up the ante, putting on increasingly difficult and longer races, many continuing for several days and hundreds of miles and including both high-altitude climbs and extreme temperatures. Critics have argued that some races have begun to blur the line between the rugged and the reckless.

The race Saturday had been organized by the local government for the past four years and was seen as a way to promote tourism in the area, one of China’s poorest provinces.

Competitors are usually mountaineers, ultramarathon runners and trail runners, many of whom are motivated by the prize money as well as the glory. The award for the Yellow River Stone Forest Park race was around $2,300, according to the event’s social media account.

Yun Yanqiao, a respected Chinese trail runner, did not compete in the race on Saturday but lost two friends, Huang Yinbin, 28, and Liang Jing, 31, an ultramarathon champion. For Mr. Huang and Mr. Liang, running ultramarathons was as much about the sport as it was about the monetary award, Mr. Yun said. Neither Mr. Liang nor Mr. Huang came from wealthy backgrounds.

Mr. Yun said he believed that Mr. Liang ran the race for his wife and young child as well as for his passion. “He was someone who always worked really hard at training and at racing,” Mr. Yun said. “He was someone who cared for his family a lot.”

Another survivor, the well-known Chinese mountaineer Luo Jing, described her experience to the state broadcaster CCTV. As she and other runners began the steep ascent and the air thinned with the high altitude, she said, she noticed more and more runners stopping on the side of the road, trembling from the cold.

“They said it was too cold on the mountain, and they all wore shirts and shorts,” Ms. Luo told CCTV. “Someone told us: Go down the mountain, some people are already foaming at the mouth

“I’m going to tryng back now, I’m safe,” Ms. Luo says in the video as the wind batters her phone and the waves of freezing rain obscure the background.

Liu Yi contributed research from Beijing. Matthew Futterman contributed reporting.

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