Hong Kong marathon death: sports expert urges runners to get heart checks before races

Marathon runners should undergo heart health checks before competing at events, a sports expert urged following the death of a 30-year-old man in the aftermath of Hong Kong’s biggest annual race.

A police insider said Zhang Zhichong had collapsed near an escalator at a platform for the Tin Hau MTR station near the endpoint for the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon at Victoria Park. He was discovered at around noon.

The runner was still wearing his running clothes and number bib at the time, the source said.

Zhang was taken to Ruttonjee Hospital in Wan Chai, but was pronounced dead upon arrival shortly after 1pm.

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The force’s railway district unit is investigating the case.

The Hong Kong, China Association of Athletics Affiliates, which co-organised the event, said the deceased had taken part in the half marathon, but had stopped short of disclosing his identity.

The association also expressed its deepest condolences to the runner’s family.

“The organiser reminds all runners to closely monitor their post-race physical condition and allow themselves recovery after the race,” it said.

Lobo Louie Hung-tak, associate head of the health and physical education department at the Education University of Hong Kong, said the overall likelihood of a fatality among competing marathon runners was about one in 100,000.

Most of those deaths were related to hidden and congenital heart issues, he added.

“A thorough heart examination can find them out, but the biggest problem is how can you persuade the runners to go check,” he said.

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But Louie said the idea of introducing mandatory heart checks would trigger a large-scale debate.

Organisers needed to adopt a balanced approach and the existing screening requirements for full and half marathon events, which checked runners’ experience levels, were acceptable, he added.

The incident marks the first time a runner has died in a short interval after a marathon since 2018, when a 50-year-old man died three days after collapsing during a 10km race.

A coroner’s court at the time concluded the man had suffered from an acute myocardial infarction.

Similar deaths were also recorded in 2017, 2015, 2012 and 2006.

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