© Copyright – 2014 – Athletics Illustrated

Not for the first time, Athletics Kenya has come under fire for failing to address their home-grown issue of elite athlete doping by some of the top names in the sport of distance running. Recently the condemnation has come from Kenyans themselves.

Former marathon runner-turned-politician (elected MP of the Cherangany Constituency), Wesley Korir, in reference to Athletics Kenya’s failure to seek a solution to their domestic doping problem told the Associated Press, “They continue to live in denial and they do not want to accept the reality that the issue is so serious. The system is so corrupt… the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) should open a testing laboratory in Kenya to safeguard the process.”

Korir also said, “I have done investigations after Rita Jeptoo’s doping case came out and I have found that there is a cartel of doctors going round giving the athletes these performance-enhancing drugs. With the athletes being pushed to run faster times, there will be a tendency of some of them being tempted to dope.”

Korir claims that in less than two months, since Jeptoo’s out-of-competition drug test, he has managed to uncover a cartel that no authoritative organisation to date has managed to expose, not WADA, not the IAAF and not Athletics Kenya. Korir must have known about the so-called drug cartel already, which suggest a long-term and potentially widespread doping issue.

Korir owns a marathon personal best time of 2:06:13 and a 1:01:19 best for the half marathon. He won the B.A.A. Boston Marathon as well as the Los Angeles marathon twice.

Jeptoo’s “A” sample tested positive at the end of September for Erythropoietin or EPO, the blood boosting performance enhancing drug. She has vehemently denied wrongdoing. Her agent however, Frederico Rosa, threw her under the bus and distanced himself from the athlete. He told Competitor.com, that Jeptoo told him that she had Malaria and went for treatment to an unknown doctor; instead of the secret Italian doctor that he uses. Claiming Malaria is the most popular go-to excuse in Kenya. Jeptoo’s training partner Jemina Sungong also failed a doping test two years ago, but it was overturned.

Kenyan Sally Kipyego, who is an Olympic and World Championship’s silver medallist told Athletics Illustrated, “If there is some truth to Wesley’s investigation then I believe it’s paramount that such a situation be fully investigated and dealt with accordingly. But above all else, I believe the athletes should be educated on the matter thus ensuring they fully understand their responsibility. It’s a shame that doping is a problem in our sport but I hope, as we move forward, more guidelines are put in place to ensure that we have a clean sport in the future.”

Korir is right about one thing though; Athletics Kenya has done nothing about the recent spate of positive doping tests. The testing centre, that he suggest that WADA should open has been “on its way” for over two years. The centre was announced in 2012, it was supposed to be operational by early 2014; however; nothing has been done to date; not a shovel in site. The proposed testing centre, if it ever gets built, is a project of the IAAF, rather than WADA.

Athletics Kenya and more particularly their hot-headed chairman Isaiah Kiplagat does not trust the IAAF and is apparently stalling in allowing them to proceed with the testing centre. Gabriel Dolle, the IAAF’s medical director said, “Until we can find the appropriate partner, the centre is still something under exploration.” Clearly AK is not a suitor.

Would WADA be the perfect partner?

WADA (the World Anti-Doping Agency), brainchild of Canadian lawyer and former Olympic athlete Dick Pound has a funding model that requires member nations to pay an annual fee, which is matched by the International Olympic Committee. Although the IAAF are not a national anti-doping agency, WADA has helped member nations, as per their 2012 annual report: “National Anti-Doping Organizations (NADOs) have also received WADA’s assistance where it worked directly with Brazil, Ghana, Russia and Turkey to support the development of their anti-doping programs. The assistance provided varied from country to country, and also involved the engagement and aid of other well-established NADOs.”

WADA works with a budget of over 26-million dollars, which is split 50-50 between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and member nations, the individual figures are based on the country’s ability to pay, so of course Africa pays the least, by far. While the Americas, Europe and Asia pay between 2.7 million to 6.3 million, each, the entire African continent of member nations pay just $54,953 – Kenya would not only in effect get a free testing centre, but  the same people who pay to watch their athletes run and buy the merchandise that they represent are indirectly funding it, sort of speak.

Mr. Pound told Athletics Illustrated, “I think it has become all too clear that there is a major doping problem in Kenya and a reluctance on Kenya’s part both to acknowledge the existence of the problem and to bring an end to it.  Athletes playing fair are not being protected.  Indeed, the reverse seems to be true – the doping athletes enjoy some form of protection.  If a solution is not found quickly, there is a serious risk that Kenya will be declared non-compliant with the World Anti-Doping Code and that its ability to enter any athletes in competitions could be suspended.”

According to WADA, “The World Anti-Doping Code (Code) is the core document that harmonizes anti-doping policies, rules and regulations within sport organizations and among public authorities around the world. It works in conjunction with five International Standards which aim to foster consistency among anti-doping organizations in various areas: testing; laboratories; Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs); the List of Prohibited Substances and Methods; and the protection of privacy and personal information.”

Kiplagat, by stalling, could be in direct conflict with the aim stated above, case in point the (so far) failed testing facility in Kenya. WADA can force that contravention by partnering with the IAAF. Jeptoo’s positive result came from a rare out-of-competition test, which is exactly the purpose of the testing facility.

Kenya stands at the confluence of two diametrically opposing attitudes in their storied athletic history. Is the proverbial shit about to hit the fan? Is this Kenya’s Lance Armstrong moment of shame? Agent Rosa said that up to approximately seven years ago, a coach would be hard pressed to have a Kenyan take so much as an over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like acetaminophen or Ibuprofen. At about that time Kenya’s and pretty much only Kenya’s marathon performances started to improve at a much faster rate. Until then, the improvement trajectory was stable, almost predictable, then suddenly about seven years ago finish times started to drop sooner and sooner, against benchmarks that in theory, should become more and more difficult to breach.

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 crested. 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.

German Television and Radio journalist Hajo Seppelt told Athletics Illustrated in a 2013 interview that he, disguised as a sports agent, was able to easily buy PEDs in the markets of Kenya.

In 2012, Matthews Kisorio tested positive, during the Olympic trials. He told Seppelt in a documentary that doping is commonplace in Kenya. Kisorio broke rank and spilled the beans, sharing all of the details of his blood-doping and steroid-taking. He said, “Everyone told me that I wasn’t the only one” and that “when you run, you run so smooth”. Athletics Kenya never investigated the story. They simply suspended Kisorio for two years and turned a blind eye.

World record holder in the marathon, Paula Radcliffe, when contacted during the New York City Marathon told Athletics Illustrated, “Its good out of competition testing in Kenya is starting and bad that the (Jeptoo’s) B sample hasn’t been tested yet. As this is for EPO, there is a big risk the metabolites will be degraded.”

With a testing facility in Kenya, the B sample would have been tested shortly after the adverse finding in the A sample.

Radcliffe added, “Sadly there are cheats everywhere and we have to keep improving the testing and moral element amongst all athletes no matter the region.”

One anonymous Kenyan athlete told Athletics Illustrated, “There is a possibility that in Eldoret and Nairobi there are pharmacies that deal steroids. “This is not my word it is Athletics Kenya’s report,” said the athlete.

If this is true, then Korir, Pound, Radcliffe and Dolle are correct in that Athletics Kenya is clearly failing to do anything about doping and therefore are in conflict with the doping code established by WADA and are at risk to face sanction from future competitions. But this is not the first spate of positives.

Eleven years ago, in 2003 Ambrose Bitok failed a drug test at a meeting in Linz on August 19th, he was a 5,000m runner and had tested positive for the performance-enhancing drug norandrosterone. Around that same time, during the Lausanne IAAF World Cross Country Championships Pamela Chepchumba was handed a two-year ban after testing positive for EPO. Many Americans may have forgotten that at that time Bernard Lagat (was Kenyan, now American) tested positive for EPO, however, the B sample did not match and the athlete was not suspended. As Radcliffe said, the B sample can change metabolically and be thrown out.

Doping is a problem worldwide and has been a problem in Kenya for a long time. For example in 1999 Delilah Asiago was banned for two years for returning a positive test, she went on to win the Dubai Marathon, upon her return after a two-year suspension.

Korir wants to criminalize doping. He tweeted that he will be introducing a bill that will make athletes, coaches, agents or doctors that assist in doping face criminal charges. Korir suggests in a single tweet more than Chairman Kiplagat has done in 22 years heading Athletics Kenya, the national governing body of the sport.

Here are a few others; this is by no means a complete list:

Pamela Chepchumba
Susan Chepkemei
Lydia Cheromei
Mathew Kisorio
Simon Kemboi
Nguriatukei Rael Kiyara
Wilson Loyanae
David Munyasia
Elizabeth Muthuka
John Ngugi
Ronald Kipchumba Rutto

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