SHANGHAI (AFP) - Cheating to win is as old as sport itself but two Chinese pigeon racers took it to modern-day extremes when they hid the birds in milk cartons and hopped on a bullet train.
It was no surprise, then, when their homing pigeons took the first four places in the race and total prize money of more than one million yuan (S$200,000).
But the pigeons' rapid times soon raised suspicions, and Shanghai race organisers turned the men in when the scale of the ruse emerged, the state-run Legal Daily reported.
The two men, surnamed Gong and Zhang, attempted to conceal their crime by killing the birds and giving up the prize money, the state newspaper said.
But it was too late and a Shanghai court handed the duo suspended sentences of three years for fraud.
The court also fined Gong 30,000 yuan and Zhang 20,000 yuan, Legal Daily said, adding that they also broke competition rules by using older pigeons instead of one-year-olds.
The two men went to great lengths to beat the opposition in the race in April 2017 from the city of Shangqiu in the province of Henan to Shanghai on China's east coast, a distance of about 750km.
Gong and Zhang began their nefarious plan a year in advance, raising the pigeons at two feeding points in Henan and Shanghai, to familiarise the birds with the locations.
After handing the pigeons over to organisers in Henan, rather than flying straight to Shanghai, the birds went to the feeding point elsewhere in the province.
There, they were concealed in milk cartons for the bullet-train ride to Shanghai, where they were released to the finish line and first place.
Gong and Zhang will not serve jail time unless they commit more wrongdoing - forgoing the prize money saved them from time behind bars.
Pigeon racing is popular among older people in China, and Shanghai is considered the modern-day home of the sport.
Speeds vary depending on distance, but racing pigeons can fly at about 150kmh - fast, but not as fast as a bullet train.