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China bans ultras, trail races following tragedy at Huanghe Shilin Mountain Marathon

21 runners died after the weather turned at the May race in China's Gansu province

Photo by: Martin Bissig

China has issued a ban on all ultramarathons and off-road running races following the recent tragedy at the Huanghe Shilin Mountain Marathon at which 21 runners died on May 22. A report from the South China Morning Post (SCMP) says the Chinese government has determined that these races don’t have enough safety standards, so they enacted a moratorium on the events for the foreseeable future. 

The 100K race took place in China’s Gansu province, and when it began, the weather was perfect for a run. A few hours into the race, though, conditions turned, and runners were hit with freezing rain and hail. Many of the 172 athletes on the course had on only shorts and T-shirts, making them all the more vulnerable to the sudden cold spell on the mountain. 

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Seeing the dangerous conditions, organizers called off the race by 1 p.m. and sent a rescue team of hundreds onto the course to help the runners. The search party managed to save 151 athletes, but 21 passed away and another eight were taken to hospital. 

The tragic outcome made headlines across the globe, and the General Administration of Sport (GAS) of China ultimately decided to put an end to all races. As reported by the SCMP, the GAS’s announcement said, “the public safety incident at Bayin City Stone Forest 100K Trail Race in Gansu Province, in part due to sudden changes in weather, caused a great loss of human life – a lesson imbued with deeply felt grief.”

The announcement continued, saying, “In order to fully guarantee the health and to safeguard the lives of the people, races in mountainous areas, cross-desert races, ultra distance races and other such newly popular sport activities that involve high risk, management duties are unclear, regulations not perfected and safety standards not clear-cut, are suspended from this day.”

A shot from the SANFO Ultra 168 ultramarathon in Chongli, a district not far from Beijing. Photo: Martin Bissig

The ban is not permanent, and the GAS will now conduct an examination of the country’s safety standards for such races. Included in the GAS announcement was a note on emergency rescue teams, which officials said is paramount for these events. 

The SCMP report said no specific races have been named in this ban, but it’s assumed that any events held outside of cities and not on roads will be cut from the Chinese running calendar, as well as 12- and 24-hour races and any road runs longer than 42.2K. 

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