The stakes in Changzhou were high. Suzhou, Wuhan, Dongying, Liupanshui, Harbin, and Yingkou indefinitely postponed their marathons for 2020 even though China has benefited for months from enviably low coronavirus cases thanks to the country’s strict tracing and quarantine programs. On the day of the Changzhou race, mainland China had 230 reported COVID-19 cases, none serious.
“We had to make adjustments to the program on the fly already for 2020, to still allow races to get and use their Labels while being unable to have the athletes they normally need to have—travel restrictions, harsh budget cuts, etc.,“ said Alessio Punzi, road running manager at World Athletics, the international governing body that certifies competitive road-races like the West Taihu Half Marathon. The adjustments to China's marathon's have included the banning of foreign runners. In Changzhou, runners from outside the province were not allowed to compete.
In 2019, Asefa Tefera placed third in the West Taihu Half Marathon. This year, he remains in his home in Ethiopia.
“Now, as a result of the pandemic restrictions, lots of athletes have no chance to race in China, and that is such a shame,” he said. “Honestly speaking, I wish there would not be a season called 2020. It is a season to forget, really. I hope in 2021, things will be different from 2020, and I cannot wait to compete again.”
But back in Changzhou, as Cheng Qianyu, the first runner, crashed into the finish-line ribbon 4 minutes, 50 seconds slower than 2019’s record-setting finish of 1 hour, 2 minutes, 45 seconds, onlookers cheered and cameras clacked.