A shepherd was hailed as a hero in China after it emerged he had saved six runners stricken during an ultramarathon in which 21 other competitors died.
Zhu Keming was all the rage on Twitter-like Weibo on Tuesday, three days after a 100-kilometer (60-mile) mountain race in northwestern Gansu Province turned deadly in the freezing rain, the high winds and hail.
The incident sparked outrage and mourning in China, as questions swirled about why organizers apparently ignored warnings about the extreme weather conditions.
Zhu was grazing his sheep around lunchtime on Saturday when the wind picked up, rain fell and temperatures dropped, he told state media.
He sought refuge in a cave where he had stored clothes and food for emergencies, but inside he spotted one of the 172 competitors in the race and checked out what was wrong as he was still, apparently in cramps.
Zhu escorted the man to the cave, massaged his icy hands and feet, lit a fire, and dried his clothes.
Four other runners in distress entered the cave and told the shepherd that others were stranded outside, some unconscious.
Zhu headed outside once more and, braving the hail and icy temperatures, reached a runner lying on the ground. He carried her to the shelter and wrapped her in blankets, almost certainly saving her life.
“I mean how grateful I am to the man who saved me,” runner Zhang Xiaotao wrote on Weibo.
“Without him, I would have been left there. “
Zhu was celebrated in China for his selfless actions, but the Shepherd told state media that he was “just an ordinary person who did a very ordinary thing.”
Zhu saved three men and three women, but regrets that he could not do more to help others who may have succumbed to hypothermia.
“There were still people who couldn’t be saved,” he said.
“There were two lifeless men and there was nothing I could do for them.
” I am sorry. “
The tragedy has cast a renewed eye on China’s burgeoning marathon and running industry, with authorities ordering sports competitions to improve safety.
According to The Paper in Shanghai, five cross-country, marathon and other running races were canceled at short notice.
© 2021 AFP