Beijing Half Marathon: Investigation into Chinese runner's controversial victory. GETTY IMAGES

Organisers of the Beijing Half Marathon announced on Monday that they were investigating after widely circulated online footage suggested that three African runners may have deliberately allowed China's He Jie to win.

Footage taken during Sunday's race showed Kenya's Robert Keter and Willy Mnangat, along with Ethiopia's Dejene Hailu, alongside their Chinese counterpart He Jie as they approached the finish line. The video showed the African runners gesturing for He to take the lead as they visibly slowed their pace. 

He, the marathon gold medallist at the 2023 Asian Games, won by one second. According to one broadcaster, the four runners stayed together for the entire 21-kilometre course. 

"We are investigating and will announce the results to the public as soon as they are available," a Beijing sports bureau official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The Beijing Sports Competition Management and International Exchange Centre, which organised the event, announced an investigation into the incident. It attracted considerable attention on Chinese social media platform Weibo, with some users criticising the perceived outcome.

This will surely be the most embarrassing championship in He Jie's career. With such a big organiser and such a famous event, this really puts sportsmanship to the ground in shame," the post read.

"The integrity of our sport is of paramount importance to World Athletics and while this investigation is ongoing we are unable to make any further comment," communications director Jamie Fox told AFP.

Athletes cross the finish line, with China's He Jie taking first place. BEIJING INTERNATIONAL RUNNING FESTIVAL
Athletes cross the finish line, with China's He Jie taking first place. BEIJING INTERNATIONAL RUNNING FESTIVAL

In recent years, the popularity of long-distance running has grown significantly among China's middle class. Despite this surge in interest, the sport has faced various challenges, most notably cases of cheating and shortcomings in event organisation.

At a half-marathon held in the southern city of Shenzhen in 2018, 258 runners were found to have engaged in cheating behaviour, with a significant number choosing to take shortcuts. CCTV cameras installed to monitor traffic captured footage of these individuals manoeuvring through trees to rejoin another section of the race.

At the 2019 Xuzhou International Marathon in eastern China, a woman was recorded riding a green rental bike during the race. Race officials intervened and ordered her to get off the bike, although she was seen getting back on shortly afterwards.