A Chinese runner's victory in the Beijing Half Marathon raises doubts about whether his rivals will let him win.

(CNN) — Chinese runner He Jie's victory in the Beijing Half Marathon this Sunday is facing scrutiny after it was questioned by Chinese netizens as a trio of African runners deliberately slowed him down to win.

Video from the end of the race shows Kenyan Willy Mangat turning to him and beckoning him to come forward as the four men run side by side a few meters from the finish line.

Former 5km world record holder Robert Getter of Kenya then appears to be inviting his compatriot Tejene Hailu of Ethiopia to stand back, urging him to get ahead of the pack.

The Chinese runner crossed the finish line in 1:03:44 to claim the first prize of US$5,500, while the African trio was a second behind.

The video shows African runners He applauds the victory and pats himself on the back, although the Asian Games marathon champion seems less enthusiastic despite winning his first competitive half-marathon.

The 25-year-old, who has broken the Chinese marathon record twice in the past two years, told reporters after the race that “I wasn't in my best competitive shape,” but did not mention the controversial result.

Some Chinese netizens called for an investigation into the race, while others demanded action from the organizers.

The so-called “customs of the world” should not obscure the fairness of competition in sport. Honesty is always the essence of sportsmanship,” said one user on social media site Weibo.

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Another popular comment said: “I support the investigation, fair play is essential,” and the user said he hoped “the authorities can provide a clear explanation to maintain the purity of the competition and respect the efforts of the athletes.”

In a statement released on Monday, race organizers the Beijing Municipal Sports Bureau and the Chinese Athletics Association said they were investigating the matter with “great importance”.

Chinese sports company Xstep, which sponsors both He and the Beijing Half Marathon, told state media The Paper that the situation was being “investigated and verified by multiple parties”.

“More information will be communicated as soon as possible,” Xstep told the aforementioned media outlet.

Some observers agreed that the outcome of the race was unusual.

“It's a bad picture any way you look at it,” said sports analyst Mark Treyer, author of “Sporting Superpower: An Insider's View on China's Quest to Be the Best.”

“It's one thing for four runners to run at the end and shake hands or cross the line as a show of sportsmanship. That's not what we saw.

“It's not a sprint finish for anyone but He Jie. It doesn't take a genius or a racing expert to figure that out.”

He hails from northwest China's Ningxia region and is considered one of the country's most promising long-distance runners. Ranked 77th in the IAAF men's marathon world rankings, he is expected to lead Asian runners at the upcoming Paris 2024 Summer Olympics.

“He's an elite athlete,” Dreyer says. “You don't need this kind of charity.”

Wilmot Chandler

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