Kenya, I think we have a problem

November 6, 2014 1

© Copyright – 2014 – Athletics Illustrated

Rita Jeptoo’s agent Federico Rosa, during an interview with competitor.com published on November 4th called “Straight Dope: Exclusive Interview with Rita Jeptoo’s Agent Federico Rosa,” revealed that he feels there is a doping problem in Kenya that has escalated over the past five to six years. Rosa said that the source of the issue starts with Kenya having more open access to the outside world, information as well as the internet. According to Rosa, athletes who are from Kenya, fifteen years ago were very clean, drug taking was non-existent and it was difficult to get them to even take non-performance enhancing medication for typical maladies.

Today things are very different.

When asked if there is a performance enhancing drug problem in Kenya today, he said, “Today, yes. Absolutely.” When asked how long he feels the doping problem has gone on he answered, “Five to six, seven years maximum. That’s completely changed our mentality. When I used to work back in the late ‘90s, early 2000s, it was really difficult to convince an athlete to take even a tablet for a fever or bring them to the hospital.”

So what has changed?

A quick look at the men’s all-time fastest marathon results show that of the top-110 fastest marathon times, 107 of them or all but three  have taken place within that seven-year window that Rosa refers to, from 2007 and later. Perhaps the damn broke once the 2:06:00 barrier was breached. Ronaldo da Costa’s 2:06:05 was the final, slower-than-2:06:00 marathon world record and currently stands as the 109th fastest performance all-time.

Accomplished in 1998 in Berlin, the record stood for eight years and four days before Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie broke it with his 2006 Berlin Marathon performance of 2:05:56. Berlin is generally considered one of the fastest marathons in the world as nine of the top-15 legal results have happened there. Previous to da Costa’s record, Ethiopia’s Belayneh Dinsamo held the world marathon record for an entire decade at 2:06:50.

All but 25 of the top-110 times have been run since 2010, a time frame of just four years and well within the Rosa range regarding increased PED usage in Kenya. Nine of the all-time top-10 results were achieved by Kenyans, one from neighbouring Ethiopia (Gebrselassie). Ninety-five of the top-100 performances were run from a Kenyan or an Ethiopian athlete. Only one, Ryan Hall of the US, is not from either of these two countries.

African economic growth – the lion economy – is currently out-pacing the Asian tiger economy. Most of Africa, and Kenya is a part of this, have the fastest growing middle-class in the world.

Natural resource extraction over the past decade in Africa’s has been well stimulated, but more recently other international investors have become aware of the potential from Africa’s growth opportunity in consumer spending, which is set to rise from 860 billion dollars (USD) from back in 2008 to 1.4 trillion by year 2020, according to the McKinsey Global Institute.

Kenya and much of Africa is changing.

Agents and coaches have entered into the Rift Valley of Kenya seeking out the next Paul Tergat or David Rudisha. The Rift Valley hasn’t yet directly benefited from the economic shift; however, there are a great number of athletes who know well the prize purses that are available on the streets of Europe, Asia and the Americas. A single marathon win buys a ticket straight out from under poverty’s embrace. The TCS New York City Marathon just handed out two first place prizes of $100,000 each for the first woman and first man to cross the line. There are more dollars available too, such as breaking certain time benchmarks, the course record and of course there are appearance fees.

Second place took home $60,000, while third gets $40,000, the prizes goes down to the 12th place finisher. The time bonuses start at $10,000 for sub-2:10 for the men and sub-2:27 for the women and maxes out at $60,000 each for going under 2:05 and 2:22, respectively.

The World Marathon Majors  that is a two-year overlapping series, pays out prizing to the runners who achieve the most points annually, running a minimum number of marathons. Wilson Kipsang won the 2014 New York City Marathon, so took home the $100,000, plus another $500,000 for winning the points race. Kipsang of course is Kenyan where $600,000 is a lot of money in the first world economy, especially for a runner, it is a fortune for a Kenyan.

Kipsang also earned $60,000 for his 2014 London Marathon win in the time of 2:04:29. As he ran faster than the 2:05:00 barrier, he also earned another $100,000 there. Kipsang is no stranger to winning as he is the former world record holder with his 2:03:23 from the 2013 Berlin Marathon.

With the availability of top-level agents, coaches, prize purses and open information, the opportunity to earn big dollars may be just too tempting for a poverty-stricken athlete from the Rift Valley. Over recent years there have been stories emerging of middle-class-type issues with the Kenyans themselves. For example, Sammy Wanjiru died in a drunken stupor, apparently during or shortly after a domestic dispute with his wife; he fell from a balcony at his home.

Wanjiru was the 2008 Beijing Olympic Marathon winner. He was the first Kenyan to win gold in the Olympic marathon. In that race he broke the Olympic marathon record with his performance of 2:06:32 in dramatic fashion in front of billions of viewers, he led much of the way. As an 18-year-old he broke the world half-marathon record by over 20 seconds.  Wanjiru also won the London and Chicago Marathons, while barely into his 20s. Perhaps he had a taste of too much, too soon.

Until recently, out-of-competition drug testing was not conducted in Kenya because of the isolation. To test for EPO by taking urine samples the window of opportunity is very small, the testers have to take the sample within days of an athlete using it, but a blood test can be kept for much longer. HGH is detectable only in a blood test, as is the evidence of illegal blood transfusions, also known as blood doping.

Wada said in a statement: “The reality is that the anti-doping organisations that do conduct testing in Kenya – including the IAAF and Wada’s Regional Anti-Doping Organisation Africa Zone V – only test for urine. The IAAF chooses to take blood samples from Kenyan athletes when they are either competing or training abroad.’’

Matthew Kisorio tested positive in 2012 and at that time he told the press that doping in Kenya was rampant; thereby breaking rank and subsequently causing all hell to break loose. The authorities were slow to act on Kisorio’s accusations, and now Kenya’s athletic credibility is being called into question as the country struggles to set up an internationally recognised drug testing centre.

The centre that was announced in 2012, was supposed to be operational by early 2014 however; nothing had been done as of February 7, 2014; not a shovel in site. Athletics Kenya that is led by their hot-headed president Isaiah Kiplagat does not trust the International Association of Athletics Federations and is stalling in allowing them to proceed. Gabriel Dolle, the IAAF’s medical director said, “Until we can find the appropriate partner, the centre is still something under exploration.” In 2013 Kiplagat, in a knee-jerk reaction to Seppelt’s undercover work announced that all foreign coaches that are not registered with AK had one week to leave the country. Ironically, the registered and legendary Italian coach Renato Canova soon departed for China. He was responsible for the performance of a great deal of top-performing East Africans.

One top-performing athlete that he coached, Kenyan Rita Jeptoo, recently tested positive for EPO in an out-of-competition test. She won the 2013 and 2014 Chicago Marathons and the 2013 and 2014 Boston Marathons, setting a new course record of 2:18:57. She was set to take part in a ceremony at the 2014 New York City Marathon and take home a cheque for $500,000. The event was postponed, citing the positive test result.

Kenya, I think we have a problem.

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