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A Chinese runner's victory in the Beijing Half Marathon leaves no doubt that his rivals let him win

A Chinese runner's victory in the Beijing Half Marathon leaves no doubt that his rivals let him win

(CNN) — Chinese runner He Jie's Sunday victory in the Beijing Half Marathon faces investigation after Chinese netizens questioned his win because three African runners appeared to deliberately slow down to allow him to win.

A video of the finish of the race shows Kenyan Willy Mnangat walking towards He and motioning for him to move forward as the four men run side by side a few meters from the finish line.

Former 5km world record holder Robert Keeter, also from Kenya, appears to be calling for him to go in front, while ordering his compatriot and Ethiopian Dejeni Hailu to stay behind.

The Chinese runner crossed the finish line in a time of 1:03:44 and won the first prize of 5,500 US dollars, while the African trio was one second behind.

The video shows African runners They applaud his victory and pat him on the back, although the Asian Games marathon champion appears less enthusiastic despite winning his first competitive half marathon.

“I was not at my competitive best,” Hu, 25, who broke the Chinese marathon record twice in the past two years, told the press after the race, but made no mention of the controversial finish.

Some Chinese netizens called for an investigation into the race, while others called on organizers to take action.

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One user said on the Weibo social platform: “The so-called ‘customs of the world’ should not obscure the fairness of competition in sports. Fairness is always the essence of sportsmanship.”

Another popular comment said: “I support an investigation, fair play is vital,” and the user added that he hopes the authorities can “provide a clear explanation to keep the competition clean and respect the efforts of the athletes.”

In a statement issued on Monday, race organisers, the Beijing Municipal Sports Bureau and the Chinese Athletics Federation said they attached “great importance” to the matter and were conducting an investigation.

Chinese sports company Xstep, which is sponsoring both He and the Beijing Half Marathon, told state media The Paper that the situation is “being investigated and verified by multiple parties.”

“More information will be sent as soon as possible,” Xstep told the aforementioned media outlets.

Some observers agreed that the end of the race seemed unusual.

“It's a bad image no matter how you look at it,” said sports analyst Mark Dreyer, author of “The Sports Superpower: An Insider's View on China's Striving for Better.”

“It's one thing for four runners running at the finish to shake hands or cross the line together in a display of sportsmanship. That's not what we saw.

“It's not a sprint finish for anyone other than He Jie. It doesn't take a genius or a racing expert to figure that out.”

He, a native of the Ningxia region in northwest China, is considered one of the country's most promising long-distance runners. He is ranked 77th in the IAAF men's marathon world rankings and is expected to lead Asian runners at the upcoming 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.

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“He's an elite athlete,” Dreyer says. “You don't need that kind of charity.”