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China gets the running bug


By Alice Morrison

Running marathon distances and ultras is becoming more and more popular in China and is being actively encouraged by the Chinese government.

In last weekend’s National Games which used to be restricted to professional athletes only, amateurs were encouraged to compete alongside them in the marathon. 4,128 amateur runners took part.

Thirty-year-old Yun Yanqiao, a grassroots ultra-marathon runner, clinched the first ever mass marathon gold medal in the 58-year-history of China's National Games.

Yun from Shandong Province, who used to be a power engineer before dedicating himself to ultra running, got 2:32:45 to finish on top of the amateur group, winning with a margin of 39 seconds ahead of runner-up Mou Zhenhua. Dong Guojian, a two-time Olympian, won the professional men's race in 2:18:45.

"This gold medal really means a lot to me," said an excited Yun, a two-time winner at the Vibram Hong Kong 100km Ultra Trail Race.

"When I first knew amateur runners could compete in the National Games, I was just so excited. Today nearly all the best grassroots runners in China are competing here, which will definitely be an encouragement for the other runners to keep running and improve their personal bests," he added.

"Inviting grassroots runners to compete at the National Games is just the first step," said Du Zhaocai, Vice President and Secretary General of the Chinese Athletics Association (CAA). "Next we will go on to provide them with opportunities to vie for a berth at the national team to compete at the World Championships and Olympic Games."

The CAA has already launched a programme to select two grassroots runners, one man and one woman, to represent China to compete at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.

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