21 Runners Die While Competing in Chinese Ultramarathon

Extreme weather led to the tragedy

Gansu search party
Rescuers search for missing people at the Yellow River Stone Forest tourist site in Jingtai County of Baiyin City, northwest China's Gansu Province, May 23, 2021.
Xinhua via Getty Images

172 runners took part in an ultramarathon in northwestern China this weekend, looking for a way to put their endurance to the test in a mountainous part of Gansu province. Tragically, the area where the race was being held was struck by a patch of extreme weather, including high winds and plummeting temperatures. In the end, the harsh conditions killed 21 of the runners, turning what should have been an epic contest into a heartbreaking tragedy.

NPR reports that the 100-kilometer race was held in the Yellow River Stone Forest, an area known for its canyons and cliffs. When the extreme weather hit, the runners were on a narrow path at elevations over a mile above sea level. The overnight rescue operation that followed involved over 700 people searching for survivors in freezing temperatures.

The NPR article also notes that there has been some argument over whether or not the race’s organizers had advance warning of the weather. An employee of the race’s organizer, Gansu Shengjing Sports Culture Development Co., said that they were unaware of anything hazardous in the forecast. The local office of the National Early Warning Information Center had warned that both high winds and hail were possible.

A report at the Sydney Morning Herald notes that the question of whether this tragedy was preventable has led to outrage on social media, with many expressing their frustration with the local government. According to the article, officials from the city of Baiyin have accepted blame for the tragedy.

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