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On your marks, get set, cheat: Dozens take shortcut at China marathon

SHANGHAI: More than 250 runners cheated at last weekend's half marathon in Shenzhen, including many who took shortcuts, Chinese state media said on Thursday (Nov 29), calling it "deeply shameful."

Marathon and running leisure is growing rapidly in China despite the pollution that often blankets major cities, with participants donning the latest fashionable gear and wearable technology.

However, the sport has made unwelcome headlines in recent weeks.

During Sunday's run in Shenzhen, across the border from Hong Kong, 258 runners were penalized for cheating, Xinhua news agency said.

More than a dozen had fake bib numbers and three ran in someone else's place, but most were guilty of cutting corners, the report said, citing organizers.

In the most blatant cases, a traffic camera caught runners turning round at least 1km before they were supposed to make a U-turn, potentially shaving 2km or 3km off the 21km distance.

The most serious offenders face life bans from the race.

"We deeply regret the violations that occurred during the event," Shenzhen organizers said in a statement, according to Xinhua.

"Marathon running is not simply an exercise, it's a metaphor for life, and every runner is responsible for himself or herself."

Xinhua, hardly masking her disgust at the widespread cheating, branded it "deeply shameful" and added: "No matter the participants or the organizers, they should reflect: What is the significance of participating in and holding marathons?

"Do not run and forget why you run. Do not let the marathon turn sour."

Separately, runner He Yinli unwittingly sparked a national debate about patriotism after an overly enthusiastic volunteer darted onto the course to hand her to Chinese flag as she vied for victory at the Suzhou Marathon earlier this month.

She briefly held onto it before letting it fall to the floor, explaining later that it had slipped from her grasp.

Some Chinese internet users questioned He's patriotism for dropping the flag, but many others faulted the volunteer for interfering.

He Yinli was beaten to the line after the fiasco.

In 2011 there were just 22 marathons, half marathons or other running events in China, according to the Chinese Athletics Association (CAA).

However, that figure has skyrocketed to almost 1,100 this year.

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