Modern Athlete Magazine Issue 168 May 2024 | Page 32

Ask Yourself Why … by NORRIE WILLIAMSON


Ask Yourself Why … by NORRIE WILLIAMSON

Not the Way to Win !

The rules around pacing in road running – be it legal or illegal – have once again featured in the news , thanks to an apparently rigged race in China .

The Beijing Half Marathon on 14 April set social media alight when three African runners appeared to usher in the winner , He Jie , who is the Chinese men ’ s marathon record-holder . The three Africans – Kenya ’ s Willy Mnangat and Robert Keter , and Dejene Hailu of Ethiopia – were seen to ease their pace and even directed He into the correct finish straight , and it brough back memories of the pacing team for Eliud Kipchoge ’ s sub-2 run in Vienna , Austria , dropping back slightly and applauding as they watched the Kenyan run into the finish alone . As many of you will know , that was not an official race , but an arranged run with non-record-legal pacing and other aids .

In the end , Jie clocked 1:03:44 , well off the Chinese national record of 1:02:33 , which was set back in 2008 by Chen Shangdong , also in Beijing . Jie has not raced a half marathon recently , but his 2:06:57 national record in the Wuxi Marathon on 24 March suggested that he could be capable of a sub-63-minute finish in Beijing . To be fair , he is reported as saying before the race that he did not feel strong , and was probably in the natural low of recovery from Wuxi , which was only three weeks prior .
The principle of declaring pacers relates to the very basic rule of athletic competition : There should be no unfair advantage for one or more athletes , compared to one or more other athletes . Obviously , if an athlete arranges a personal pacer and others are unaware of this , particularly in a mixed gender race , then that runner has an unfair advantage over the other athletes in the same competition . In this case , it seems the three African athletes , who were also contracted with X-Tep for the race , had been late additions to the elite list , which apparently meant they were not at the ( compulsory ) elite athlete technical meeting .
Looked Suspicious
Fast-forward and the world saw three runners give way to the Chinese runner just before the finish , and social media started to ask why ? Since then , the speculation has been rife : Apparently , the event organisers were not even aware of the three
The Local Hero
Jie is the poster boy of Chinese shoe manufacturer , X-Tep , and was encouraged to race the Beijing Half Marathon , where the company was also the technical shoe and clothing sponsor . As X-Tep was also responsible for at least a portion of the invited elite field , a pacer had also been arranged for Jie , and declared in the correct fashion , as per World Athletics rules .
On race day , however , this pacer experienced problems and fell away just 4km into the race , and Jie is said to have assumed he was running his own race from that point , but also knew he was not in the shape to deliver a record-breaking performance . He was therefore apparently surprised to see the three African runners pull up alongside him . One insider said that Jie actually indicated for the Africans to move away .
The other noticeable difference was that none of the three were wearing any designation of being pacers . This is a standard requirement of pacers in an elite field , and they need to be announced and introduced at the pre-race elite athlete technical meeting . Pacers work for the event , and any athlete who wants to run at their predetermined pace . They are not officially linked to any one athlete , although obviously , there is some aligning of pace times with leading athletes ’ desires when they are used for particular World Records or other key marks .
The principle of declaring pacers relates to the very basic rule of athletic competition : There should be no unfair advantage for one or more athletes , compared to one or more other athletes .
Chinese marathon record-holder He Jie ( perhaps inadvertently ) found himself in the middle of a pacing scandal in April
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