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The Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), which seems to be making progress in the fight against doping will begin group testing Kenyan road runners this month. But with the press statements and advance warning system, are they giving cheaters a chance to test clean?

A statement from Athletics Kenya (AK) on Saturday indicated that the AIU will have the sessions at various locations across the country in a process that is a part of their Road Running Integrity Program.

The program, which involves some of the top Kenyan road runners who compete in marathons and half-marathons, as well as other long-distance events, will have group testing sessions with advance notice.

“The main focus will be building the profiles of athletes for the Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) program, which is central to the Road Running Integrity Program,”  the statement read.

Creating benchmarks to work against for future testing will be important so as to work with results that indicate anomalies in blood profiles, however, if timed well, this also may backfire in some cases. 

As crafty athletes do not always dope during big competitions, they test negative for performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) at global competitions. Setting a base for blood profiles and testing clean may be all an athlete needs to continue to appear clean.

Advance warning may not always work

Outside of the top 40 road runners, the majority have never been part of the Registered Testing Pool. However, advance notice of the tests and the announcement of the program will allow any athletes who may be doping to clear their system for the testing.

It is well documented that micro-dosing and the use of certain performance-enhancing drugs and methods of doping can clear the system faster than others. The athletes only need to be clean during the program.

Out of competition, ABP and Olympic retest successes

Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO) doping advisor Victor Conte told the New York Daily News in 2012, “I believe athletes are microdosing with patches, creams, even injections that clear the system fast. They can use EPO during training, too. Nobody shows up and does these drugs at the Olympics.”

Out of competition testing has gone a long way in catching dopers. Currently, approximately 55 Kenyan athletes are ineligible to compete due to ABP anomalies, missed tests, or positive tests. This is more than any other nation except Russia, who are under a complete ban.

As the athletics calendar has been decimated by the coronavirus pandemic, there has been less testing at events (as there have been few events). However, doping (depending on the PED and training program) will benefit athletes for base building, which many athletes are more likely doing during the pandemic. Some PEDs may provide lingering or long-term benefits, after cessation. Athletes who test clean during this program may have doped and certainly may continue to benefit from that doping protocol. The same goes for when they toe the line at global competitions and major marathons.

The eight-year statute of limitations on re-testing samples from the 2012 London Olympic Games came and passed in August 2020. Retesting of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games samples will apparently commence soon. The re-testing with new and more advanced testing methods as well as out of competition testing has worked well.

In an Athletics Illustrated doping survey, the majority of respondents indicated that the AIU appears to have improved the results during the fight against doping (results from the survey to be published soon).

The Athlete Biological Passport has been another successful tool in the fight against doping. Setting baseline data of select athletes with the program is the right idea, however, the catch in the system may be in the advance publication and advance warning of those tests.