Probe into deadly China ultramarathon leads to arrests, suicide

Investigators say tragedy was a public safety incident brought about by extreme weather and unprofessional organisation.

A man receives treatment at a hospital in Jingtai county after extreme cold weather led to the deadly ultramarathon race in Gansu province in May [File: CNS Photo via Reuters]

China has punished at least 27 government officials deemed responsible for last month’s ultramarathon deaths, the state-run People’s Daily said on Friday, as the government confirmed the reported suicide death of a senior county official.

Twenty-one people died of hypothermia when extremely cold weather suddenly descended on a government-organised 100km (62-mile) marathon on May 22 in the rugged northwestern province of Gansu.

It was one of the world’s deadliest sporting tragedies in recent history.

According to reports quoting the Gansu provincial government, at least five officials from the province have been arrested.

The head of Jingtai county, where the race was held, was also dismissed from her post, the People’s Daily reported, citing a news briefing by investigators.


Other organisers held to account included the mayor and the Communist Party chief of the city of Baiyin, to which the jurisdiction of Jingtai belongs.

Punishments imposed on officials included major demerit ratings and disciplinary warnings.

Li Zuobi, the Jingtai county party chief, also fell from his apartment building on June 9 and died, state media reported, adding that the police have ruled out homicide while Li’s death was still being investigated.

Officials had been initially tight-lipped about Li’s death, leading to speculations that it was connected to the investigation of the deadly race.

The investigators said the ultramarathon tragedy was a public safety incident brought about by extreme weather including high winds, heavy rain and plunging temperatures, as well as unprofessional organisation and operation.

China’s sport administration said last week it was suspending all high-risk sport events that lack a supervisory body, established rules and clear safety standards.

The activities halted include mountain and desert trail sports, wingsuit flying and ultra-long distance running.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters