This morning’s editon of the Sunday Morning Post had an interesting headline: “PLA didn’t play fair, runners claim”. The SCMP publication story was about this weekend’s Trailwalker, a 100 km hike/run mainly through the New Territories. This year for the first time two teams of the PLA (Public Liberation Army, the Chinese army) participated, and to many people’s surprise they managed to take place 1 and 2 in the race.
But according to some participants the PLA did not play fair. Why? The main reason was that they had about 50 supporters helping them with food and drinks during the race, and at any given time they had 10 people running with them. According to the teams that finished 3 and 4 these extra runners made it more difficult for them to overtake, or even slowed them down deliberately. Also they complained that after the PLA changed to new shoes after 50 kilometers they just left them there so they had to “dodge around them”.
My reaction: this seems like pure envy by the losers. Chinese compete in a different way than Americans or Gurkhas (the normal winners of the Trailwalker race) and they will do everything can to win. That’s how it works in Chinese business (many foreigners still underestimate this) and that’s also how it works in a race with a lot of media exposure like the Trailwalker. The Chinese wanted to win and that’s what they did. Why is it not playing fair if you have 50 people helping you? Every team has helpers, the PLA just had more of them. You still have to run yourself, it’s not that they carry you or something. And it’s not against the rules. Sure, I can imagine that it’s irritating when you (think that you) are being slowed down, but that’s what competition is all about.
The PLA team had to cover the 100 km trail run over Hong Kong’s hills in the fastest time in order to win the race and that’s a major feat. If you had expected to win and suddenly two new teams are ahead of you, I understand that you would be disappointed. But then complaining to the press about other teams not playing fair goes to far. The PLA teams did a great job winning this race (even though they did not break last year’s record) and I feel it’s not fair play trying to make them look bad. By the way, I wonder what the consequences for the SCMP might be, a big negative headline on the top of the front page about the PLA is probably not something the powerful army people like to see on a Sunday morning 🙂
Update: It turns out that it was indeed a case of PLA-bashing. The HK Standard reported on Tuesday (Nov. 24) that the Oxfam organization defends the PLA, and that team 3 and 5 sent emails denying that the PLA guys were bad sports. So it was indeed pure envy by team 4 and 6, not the PLA but they are bad sports.