China suspends ultramarathons after death of 21 runners

Rescuers carrying equipment as they search for runners who were competing in a 100-kilometre cross-country mountain race when extreme weather hit the area

China has suspended all ultramarathon and long-distance races after 21 runners died when extreme weather struck a race last month.

High winds and freezing rain hit participants in a 100km (60-mile) ultramarathon in Gansu province.

The race was halted when some of the 172 runners went missing, and a rescue operation was launched.

Now China is suspending all high-risk sports events that lack clear oversight, rules and safety standards.

The suspended sports include trail running, desert trekking, wingsuit flying and ultra-long distance races, according to a statement by China’s General Administration of Sport.

It is unclear how long the suspension will last.

According to the Chinese Athletic Association, 481 trail races and 25 ultra-marathons were held in 2019.

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.

A large crowd of ultramarathon runners waving flags as they set off before disaster struck in Gansu, China on 22 May 2021

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.

The operation continued through the night into Sunday morning, during which time a further drop in temperature made the search even more difficult, China’s Xinhua news agency reported.

The deaths sparked public outrage on Chinese social media, with anger mainly directed at the Baiyin municipal government and a lack of contingency planning.

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