‘Ultra running’s biggest tragedy’: 21 people perish during 62-mile marathon in China as horror weather ‘freezes victims to death’
At least 21 athletes, including trail running legend Liang Jiang, have died in the Huanghe Shilin Mountain Marathon in north-west China after brutal weather swept across the region, according to state media in the country.
Chinese officials cited a dramatic change in weather conditions during the race in the Yellow River Stone Forest on Saturday as the fatal reason behind the horrific tragedy, with some of the victims issuing cries for help in a messaging group before disappearing as the race was halted.
Severe gales and freezing hail and rain are said to have hit the high-altitude stage as runners climbed 6,500 feet above sea level wearing just shorts and t-shirts at around 1pm.
100 km cross-country marathon in north central China, Gansu resulted in deaths of 21 participants because of drastic change of weather conditions : hailing, freezing rain, severe drop of temperature, high wind.Deaths included several well-known marathon runners. 😭 pic.twitter.com/rY4NFX6iKC— Becky Guan (@BeckyGuan) May 23, 2021
"The wind is too strong – our thermal blankets have been torn to bits," a runner wrote in the group messages, according to Reuters. "A few are unconscious and are foaming at the mouth," another posted.
Local authorities immediately authorized an emergency response that sent more than 1,200 rescuers to find the missing athletes amid mudslides and flooding.
State reports confirmed that participants "suffered from physical discomfort and loss of temperature due to the sudden drop in air temperature."
Temperatures dropped during the night due to the complex terrain of the area, which complicated the efforts of the rescue team, officials said.
Ultra marathon champion and three-time winner of the race Jing, 31, was confirmed among the fatalities.
Speaking to Reuters, one of Jing's fellow runners, Mao Shuzhi, explained that "the rain was getting heavier and heavier" around 15 miles into her race.
Shivering in the cold, Shuzhi turned back before reaching a high-altitude section because of her previous experiences with hypothermia – a wise decision that saved her life.
"At first I was a bit regretful, thinking it might have just been a passing shower. But when I saw the strong winds and rains later through my hotel room window, I felt so lucky that I made the decision," Shuzhi added.
Liang Jing was arguably the number 1 ultra trail runner in China in the past couple of years, winning many races in China and finishing 2nd twice in HK 100... In Gansu, the entire top 3 didn't survive, all elites..— Kris Van de Velde (@KuaiSports) May 23, 2021
Another runner told Tencet Sports: "My situation was getting worse by the minute. The whole body was soaked, including my shoes and socks, and the wind only made the situation worse.
"Because of the strong wind, I confess, I was more worried about life. The cold was getting more and more unbearable. Then I found a relatively secure place and isolated. I managed to get a blanket somehow, but it was blown away instantly.
21 athletes died in the Gansu Mountain Marathon, a record. In fact, it was because of the wind and rain that the athletes were frozen to death because they were wearing too little clothes. It was easy to prevent it. It was the responsibility of the organizer. https://t.co/YQdp34VsLX— 墨者 (@YWHE8883NeSBAy1) May 23, 2021
"I was wearing fingerless gloves and I used trekking sticks. However, my hands were too cold, so I took the trekking sticks under my arm and slowly climbed the mountain.
"Soon I realized that all ten fingers were numb – I felt nothing. That's never happened to me. Then I put one finger in my mouth and held it there for a long time, but it did not warm up. And at the same time, I felt that my tongue was very cold."
Oh, this is just awful. “The high-altitude Huanghe Shilin Mountain Marathon began in sunny conditions. But by 1 p.m. local time weather conditions had turned, with freezing rain, hail stones and gale winds lashing runners” https://t.co/8SUfyzWEpn— Jennifer Hattam (@TheTurkishLife) May 23, 2021
A further 151 participants in the 62-mile race in Baiyin City, Gansu Province have already been accounted for, while eight people are hospitalized in a stable condition, as reported by local rescue headquarters.
Amid a widespread backlash, Baiyin City Mayor Zhang Xuchen commented: "As the organizer of the event, we feel a deep sense of guilt and remorse.
20 people were found dead & 1 still missing during an 100-km cross-country mountain #marathon in NW China’s Gansu province on Saturday… pic.twitter.com/qfAIRH3c9w— Yong Xiong (@yongxiong2008) May 23, 2021
"We express our deep condolences and sympathies to the bereaved families and the victims."
Ultrarunning website irunfar.com called the disaster "ultra running's biggest tragedy." "We are at a loss for words in this horrific moment," it added.Also on rt.com Two-time Olympic medalist wrestler arrested in India after evading police over alleged killing of fellow grappler at stadium