Kenya’s fall from grace should be a sign for Ethiopia to clean up its act

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© Copyright – 2018 – Athletics Illustrated

Kenya’s terrible fall from grace continues unabated. The nation once thought to run purely on talent, elevation, simple lifestyle and a devastating work ethic has been badly tarnished over recent years. Ethiopia will be next.

Lately, there has been a spate of positive drug tests and announcements of suspensions, three in one 10-day stretch in August alone. The authorities from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the new Athletes Integrity Unit (AIU) have seen enough.

Things are about to get worse for Kenya and eventually Ethiopia. The first WADA approved laboratory in Nairobi is set up. It is a move hailed as a major development for the region’s drug crisis.

Blood analysis of Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) samples will be performed at the LANCET Group of Labs East Africa, following a project initiated and funded by the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU).

East Africa is an area viewed by the AIU of being particularly in need. Kenya will not be the only country to be targeted, Ethiopia will likely be next.

It has taken years for WADA to establish a lab in Kenya due to costs and stonewalling by previous Kenyan authorities.

Recent suspensions

Samuel Kalalei winner of the 2017 Athens Marathon last November tested positive. The 24-year-old has been suspended by the AIU for testing positive for EPO; it was announced earlier this month.

Sprinter Boniface Mweresa was removed from the Kenyan team after he failed a doping test.

Former Commonwealth Games 10,000-metre gold medallist Lucy Kabuu was suspended by the AIU for failing a doping test announced on Aug. 4.

Kabuu, 34, tested positive after the Milan Marathon, for morphine of all things, a race she won in April of this year. She won 10,000m gold and 5,000m bronze at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia.

The AIU is a WADA venture created to further the doping fight, especially in countries that have been recognised as especially problematic.

One of the most dramatic stories coming out of Kenya is of three-time IAAF World Track and Field Championships 1,500-metre gold medallist Asbel Kiprop and his epic fall from grace.

It all started when Kiprop tested positive for EPO in the spring of 2018.

The story contains much drama, for example, the AIU admitted that Kiprop was warned he was to have a drug test in advance. This is a violation of the WADA rules.

Kiprop then accused the testers of tampering with his sample and took to social media with a vengeance. He claims they demanded money from him.

In August this year, Kiprop rocked the running world by taking a video and posting it to social media of him and his best friend and pacer Andrew Chepsiya’s wife Nancy Rotich kissing while she dances in her seat to the music playing on the car stereo. Kiprop, deadpans to the camera. He groped her, she played along.

Rotich apparently attempted suicide after the video was leaked by drinking a pesticide at home in Koinet, Eldoret.

Kiprop told the media, “I have lost everything. What else can I lose?”

Apparently, Kiprop called Chepsiya and confessed to having an affair with his wife since 2016 and then told his own wife, then posted the photos and video later that night.

The beginning of the end

Although positive tests by Kenyans started at least as early as 1988, when distance runner Cosmas Ndeti tested positive for the stimulant Ephedrine, the Kenyan slide started in earnest when Hans-Joachim “Hajo” Seppelt, a journalist for ARD TV in Germany, spent time in  Kenya in late 2012. He went in undercover posing as a sports agent. His report, which was broadcast on German television and radio, created a firestorm of controversy within Athletics Kenya. At the time, WADA President John Fahey visited Kenya and asked the sports officials to investigate the matter.

Apparently, Seppelt had no problem acquiring PEDs on the street, proven by hidden camera that he was wearing.

One of the athletes implicated was Mathew Kisorio, who had received a two-year suspension. As a result of the broadcast, Athletics Kenya’s Chairman Isaiah Kiplagat announced an ultimatum on Oct. 17 that all foreign coaches working in Kenya without permits must leave the country in one week’s time. The announcement came one week after the report aired.

As an aside: Nothing was said, but interestingly famed Italian Coach Renato Canova, who had the largest stable of East African athletes, left the country for China, shortly after.

Kiplagat would eventually see his own demise. In early 2016, it was announced that IAAF Council member David Okeyo, Kiplagat and the Federation’s former treasurer Joseph Kinyua were all suspended in November 2015 by the IAAF Ethics Commission for 180 days following allegations that they were involved in corruption linked to Doha’s successful bid for the 2019 World Championships.

The former president of the IAAF Lamine Diack of Senegal and his son Papa Massata Diack were implicated and later charged and convicted of several crimes. The younger Diack was found to have requested and accepted $60,000 in bribe money for that Doha bid.

A WADA report was quoted with the following, “Lamine Diack was responsible for organizing and enabling the conspiracy and corruption that took place in the IAAF. He sanctioned and appears to have had personal knowledge of the fraud and the extortion of athletes carried out by the actions of the informal illegitimate governance structure he put in place.”

Seven Kenyans busted

In November 2015, double world cross country champion and Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Emily Chebet was among seven Kenyan athletes banned for failing drugs tests as some of the country’s leading runners admitted the country has a serious problem with doping.

Chebet, the gold medallist from the 2010 and 2013 IAAF World Cross Country Championships, was suspended for four years after testing positive for diuretic and masking agent furosemide.

The national governing body also banned 400-metre runner Joyce Zakary and 400m hurdler Koki Manunga, who failed drugs tests at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing in Aug. 2015, for four years.

They also tested positive for furosemide.

Those suspensions brought the number to 43 the total Kenyan athletes to have been banned for drugs.

The Rita Jeptoo shocker

In January of 2015, Kenya’s fastest active female marathon runner, Rita Jeptoo, was suspended by Athletics Kenya for two years.

WADA had just announced in their new anti-doping code that first-time suspensions could move from two years to four years. The new code came into effect after Jeptoo tested positive, so did not apply, but they could appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and they did.

In April of that year, the CAS received two separate appeals pertaining to Jeptoo’s ban. Jeptoo asked that the decision be lifted altogether. The second appeal was from the IAAF, who requested that Jeptoo’s ban be increased to four years.

In October – six months hence – the CAS upheld the appeal from the IAAF and set the ban to four-years, effectively ending her career. Her results back to 2014 had been annulled.

She was the two-time winner of both the Chicago and Boston Marathons and had run the fastest active time in over a decade with her 2014 Boston performance of 2:18:57.

She had cheated other runners from prize money by winning the Stockholm, Milan, Paris, Boston and Chicago marathons as well as countless other races including the Lisbon Half Marathon, all pre-2014. There is simply no justice for those who were ripped off by Jeptoo.

Both of her A and B samples tested positive for EPO. At first, she denied wrongdoing and blamed a doctor for treating her for malaria; a go-to, red-flag excuse commonly used at the time by East Africans.

The next Tuesday, the IAAF suspended nine more athletes, eight from Kenya and one from India giving suspensions ranging in length from six months to eight years, they were: Julius Kiprono Mutai, Elizabeth Chelagat, Flomena Jebet Chepchirchir, Philip Kandie, Emily Perpetua Chepkorir, Stephen Kibet Tanui, Alice Ndirangu, James Maunga Nyankabaria and India’s Sethi Kethi for eight years.

On Aug. 16, 2018, it was announced that IAAF World Championships bronze medallist in the 800m Kipyegon Bett was provisionally suspended for evading a drugs test.

Bett, who won bronze in the IAAF London World Championships, was charged by the AIU.

The athlete is just 20-years-old and simply refused to submit to sample collection.

He was the fourth athlete from Kenya to be suspended in Aug. 2018.

Ethiopia is likely to be next. One red flag moment took place in January of 2018 was when ten Ethiopian men ran through the half-way point of the Dubai Marathon in the time of 1:01:38 to 1:01:40; as a pack.

Seven runners finished in under 2:04:09. It was just 10 years before that Haile Gebrselassie had become the first man to run under 2:04:00 and he did so on the Berlin Marathon course, the fastest race on the planet. Berlin is home to the world record of 2:02:57 as well as 11 of the top 19 times in history. Suddenly in one race, seven men approached Gebrselassie’s performance by a handful of seconds.

Athlete 21.1K 30K 42.195K Country
Mosinet Geremew 1:01:38 1:27:38 2:04:00 Ethiopia 18th fastest all-time
Leule Gebrselassie 1:01:39 1:27:37 2:04:02 Ethiopia 19th fastest all-time
Tola Tamirat 1:01:38 1:27:38 2:04:06 Ethiopia 20th fastest all-time
Asefa Mengstu 1:01:39 1:27:37 2:04:06 Ethiopia 20th-fastest all-time
Sisay Lemma 1:01:40 1:27:38 2:04:08 Ethiopia 21st fastest all-time
Birhanu Legese 1:01:39 1:27:37 2:04:15 Ethiopia 22nd fastest all-time
Seyefu Tura 1:01:38 1:27:37 2:04:44 Ethiopia 37th fastest all-time
Yenew Alamirew 1:01:38 1:27:58 2:08:56 Ethiopia

 

Although Kenya will likely always be viewed as the powerhouse of middle and long-distance running, the playing field is now being substantially levelled. The war on doping may be far from over, however, it appears WADA and the AIU are not as far behind as once thought.

Ethiopia should be next.