Beijing Marathon back after two-year absence with Covid rules in force

About 30,000 runners, some wearing face masks, took part on Sunday in a chilly and smoggy first Beijing Marathon since 2019 after Covid cancelled previous races.

It was the first major sporting event in the Chinese capital since the Winter Olympics in February and took place despite a rebound in infections across China.

China continues to adhere to a strict zero-Covid policy, with harsh lockdowns, quarantines and testing regimens imposed after even the smallest outbreaks.

As a result, only people living in Beijing were allowed to compete in the race, unlike previous editions, which had attracted foreign runners.

"I realised my dream today," 31-year-old participant Gao Lixiang told AFP. "I've been running for about a year now. I haven't stopped preparing for this first marathon."

Some runners kept their face masks on for the race, which Anubaike Kuwan from Xinjiang won in two hours, 14 minutes and 34 seconds with his arrival at Beijing's Olympic Park.

The marathon was meant to resume last year but was cancelled again to avoid any outbreaks of Covid ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

On Sunday, runners went past Tiananmen Square as they completed the race through the streets and highways of the Chinese capital.

The mood appeared festive, with some participants wearing colourful wigs, carrying flags or high-fiving youngsters on the sidelines.

Hundreds of spectators turned out along the route to cheer them on despite cloudy and polluted weather.

"I am very excited because many other marathons have been cancelled," said runner Niu Yaru, a 34-year-old Beijinger.

- Shanghai in sight -

Over the last two decades China had established itself as a major host of world sporting events.

But the country's zero-Covid policy has seen it sharply cut links to the rest of the world since 2020 in a bid to limit outbreaks caused by travellers.

The policy has disrupted the country's ambitions to host major sporting events, with Formula 1 grands prix, golf and tennis all cancelled in recent years.

In recent days China has recorded its highest number of Covid infections since May, though the number is still low by global standards.

More than 4,000 cases were recorded Sunday across the country, including 49 in Beijing.

Several other Chinese marathons are scheduled for this month, with a Shanghai race slated for November 27. That will be the financial hub's first major sporting event since a two-month Covid lockdown in the spring.

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