Athletics: Marathon pacer's balloon struck by lightning

Penang Bridge International Marathon pacer Cheng Kean Wee with the balloon before the race and after it burst, after lightning struck it when he was about 3km from the finishing line.
Penang Bridge International Marathon pacer Cheng Kean Wee with the balloon before the race and after it burst, after lightning struck it when he was about 3km from the finishing line.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM THESTAR.COM.MY

PETALING JAYA • A pacer's balloon saved him from being struck by lightning during the Penang Bridge International Marathon yesterday.

Cheng Kean Wee cheated death when the lightning hit his pacer balloon instead, immediately destroying it and melting part of the strap.

Cheng, who was a pacer for the full marathon, recalled that the incident happened some 3km from the 42.195km race's finishing line, while he and other runners were running through a heavy thunderstorm.

"We started at about 1.30am. It started raining heavily at about 31km, and we could hear thunder and see lightning around the race course," he said.

The 32-year-old Penangite - who was carrying the "4hr 30min" balloon to help competitors who aim to finish the race in 4½ hours - and other runners decided to complete the run as quickly as possible.

"As the runners and I were heading towards the finishing line, we saw bright lights and heard a very loud bang.

"I felt my back was a little lighter. One of the runners pointed out that the pacer balloon which I was carrying had burst," he said, adding that he was shocked that the balloon strap had melted as it is usually made of a sturdy material.

SURREAL MOMENT

I felt my back was a little lighter. One of the runners pointed out that the pacer balloon which I was carrying had burst.

CHENG KEAN WEE, a 4hr 30min pacer for the Penang Bridge International Marathon, on the balloon possibly saving his life.

He added that while he had run under strong wind and heavy rain before, he had rarely run in a thunderstorm as bad as the one that hit the island yesterday morning.

"I once ran through a thunderstorm during the Putrajaya Night Run… which was cancelled halfway as the weather was really bad," he told The Star. Cheng, who works as an accounts executive in Penang, was shaken by the incident but relieved that he came to no harm.

He even managed to complete the race right on time in 4:29.

While the full and half marathons went on as planned, the organisers had to cancel the 10km run owing to the heavy thunderstorm.

THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 26, 2018, with the headline 'Marathon pacer's balloon struck by lightning'. Print Edition | Subscribe