Beijing, May 24: An ultramarathon that was supposed to promote tourism in Gansu province in northwestern China ended in tragedy as 21 people were killd when extreme cold weather struck seemingly out of nowhere. These weren’t inexperienced runners. Two of the dead were among China’s top marathon athletes: Liang Jing, an ultramarathon champion, and Huang Guanjun, who won the men’s marathon for hearing-impaired runners at China’s 2019 National Paralympic Games.
The 62-mile mountain run at Yellow River Stone Forest Park began Saturday and was going fine for the first three hours. That’s when the runners, who were dressed in shorts and T-shirts, were suddenly met by strong winds, freezing conditions and rain that turned into hail. “The rain was getting heavier and heavier,” Mao Shuzhi, who was 15 miles into the race before she decided to turn around,told Reuters. Several others decided to turn back due to the cold. “At one point, I couldn’t feel my fingers,”a runner said. “At the same time my tongue felt frozen, too.” Others decided to keep going and a few passed out from the cold. “A few are unconscious and are foaming at the mouth,” a runner wrote in a WeChat chatroom. Some of the runners sent messages asking for help and the race was called off five hours after it began with officials mounting a massive rescue effort. After an all-night operation, 151 of the 172 participants were deemed to be safe.
News of the deaths sparked lots of outrage in China as many questioned whether the local government had not done enough to prepare for the race. The organizers of the race insist there were no hints that there was going to be extreme weather along the path of the race. But there had been warning of hail and strong winds for the past three days,notes the Associated Press. Local government officials apologized at a news conference. “We express deep condolences and sympathy to the families of the victims and the injured,” Baiyin city Mayor Zhang Xuchen said.-Agencies