Sports officials in Tonghe County in northeastern China’s Heilongjiang province have built the world’s first and only rectangular running track. That’s a weird shape for a track, but their reason for building it is weirder – because they couldn’t get an oval one ready in time for an inspection!
The running track was built as a part of a larger, big-budget project – the renovation of Tonghe County’s 10,000-square foot stadium. Local authorities were behind schedule and time was running out. With a Communist Party inspection looming over their heads, the managers of the project simply decided to ditch the traditional oval design and go for a simpler rectangular one instead.
While the rest of the stadium looks brilliant with its perfectly laid grass and excellent seating facilities, the rectangular track sticks out like a sore thumb. The original track at the stadium was actually oval, but the officials explained that it was so worn out that it couldn’t just be used as a template for re-painting. The inspection was a last-minute decision, and the managers had to complete the track in a hurry, so they simply decided on a rectangle with 90-degree bends that were easier to measure and lay out.
“In order to get it ready for the leaders, we painted it like that,” one of the stadium managers said. “We think it is ugly too but if the leaders don’t ask us to change it, what are we supposed to do?” The other managers agree with him, they feel that the unusual design of the track isn’t going to be very popular.
And they are quite right – the rectangular track has been widely ridiculed on the news and on the Chinese social media website Weibo. Locals who were invited to test the track for a national television program called Newsnight didn’t have many good things to say about it. “It is strange indeed,” said one tester. “Normally curves speed up people but these corners slow you down. It is quite inconvenient.” The woman abandoned her lap after struggling with the corners.
The track has become the butt of all sorts of jokes, but experts are raising more serious concerns like the risk of injury to athletes. Some say that the sharp turns could cause severe muscle damage while running at high speeds. Others talk about the increased risk of head-on collisions. “It’s impossible to run on such a surface,” said long distance runner Zhang Yong. He went on to call the track a disgrace to the sport of running.