Chinese Official Dies Amid Probe Into Deaths of 21 Marathon Runners

A top county-level Chinese Communist Party official died after authorities launched an investigation into the fatal ultramarathon held last month in northwest China.

On June 9, Li Zuobi, the Communist Party Secretary of Jingtai County of Gansu Province, died after falling from the building where he lived, officials confirmed Friday at a provincial government press conference.

Li’s death came after an order from Chinese leader Xi Jinping to launch an investigation into the deadly ultramarathon incident last month.

Twenty-one Chinese runners froze to death during a high-altitude mountain race marathon at the Yellow River Stone Forest tourist site on May 22 when freezing rain, high winds, and hail hit the area.

The tragedy sparked calls for probe and criticism of the organizers—the municipal government of Baiyin, county government of Jingtai, and Gansu Shengjing, a company that operated the event.

The exact cause of Li’s death remains unknown, but investigators said at the press conference that homicide has been ruled out.

Meanwhile, Chinese netizens speculated on Chinese social media site Weibo that Li committed suicide.

Gansu provincial authorities handed down punishment to 27 local authorities, dismissing the head of Jingtai county, detaining two lower-ranked officials, and giving most warnings and demerits.

The authorities claimed that the extreme weather combined with unprofessional management led to the high number of casualties. But critics suggested the organizers should take full responsibility for the deadly incident.

Among the 21 victims were top ultramarathon runners Huang Yinbin and Cao Pengfei, as well as China’s ultramarathon record holder, Liang Jing.

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