© Copyright – 2014 – Athletics Illustrated
Two of the world’s superpowers in the sport of athletics are Jamaica in sprinting and Kenya in middle-distance and long-distance running. After several years of world domination by these two previously assumed clean nations, now, suddenly, there is an increase in the number of athletes that are testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. What has changed?
Jamaica’s population is less than three million people. The tiny island nation somehow produces the lion’s share of world-class results. Nineteen athletes hold 100 of the fastest 100 metre times ever recorded, which make up 63 of those times and every result are from athletes of West and Central African descent. In comparison, Nigeria, a country populated with 170 million people, recorded just one top-100 result. In 2006, Adekotunbo Olusoji Fasuba ran 9.85, which sits tied for 67th all-time. The population of Afro-Americans is approximately 40 million. The Jamaicans dominate the Americans in this list of top-100 times, at a six-to-one ratio, while having one-fifth of the population, that is, when comparing only to Afro-Americans. More staggering yet, Jamaicans make up a meager 1% of the total population of the US.
So it was of little shock when in 2013 five Jamaican track and field athletes, including former 100 metre world record-holder Asafa Powell, faced disciplinary hearings in December and January (2014) after testing positive for banned substances. In October, three-time Olympic gold medallist Veronica Campbell-Brown was found guilty of taking a banned diuretic, but she escaped with a public reprimand from her Jamaican disciplinary panel. There was also high-jumper Demar Robinson, discus throwers Allison Randall and Traves Smikle. There are several more unnamed athletes, rumoured to be from Jamaica that apparently have had positive tests.
Sherone Simpson who is to face a disciplinary hearing is waiting for the Jamaican Anti-Doping Agency’s (JADCO) attorney Lackston Robinson to proceed, once he sorts out how to decipher a lab report that indicated adverse results from HFL Sports Lab in Kentucky. He said, “Having examined that lab documentation we have some concern about the report. That report is a highly technical document. We have persons in house who have limited training in the field of chemistry but they were not able to decipher the information in that document and we have therefore sought assistance in interpreting the document. “ Is this a stall tactic? One world-class athlete said, “This suggests not a great deal of motivation to actually do anything.”
Hajo Seppelt, the now infamous German journalist who acted undercover in Kenya as a sports agent to see how easy it would be to attain performance enhancing drugs said, “Tell the attorney that I could try to decipher it. He should forward it to me, if he likes…“ Seppelt is a sports doping expert, journalist and television and radio reporter.
Kenya is a virtual incubator of world-class talent in middle-distance as well as long-distance running. The nation’s population is just 43 million, but the concentration of talent comes from the province of the Rift Valley who boasts just over 10 million people. Smaller yet is the Kalenjin and Massai tribes within that province, where the majority of the talent is concentrated in. There are just 5.8 million people between the two tribes. Kenyans, own 12 of 20 world records, in distances from 800 metres to the marathon. For example David Rudisha is the world’s fastest 800 metre runner with a personal best time of 1:40.91, while countryman Wilson Kipsang owns the fastest marathon time of 2:03:23. During the 2014 Dubai Marathon an 18-year-old Kenyan finished in the time of 2:04:32, which would have been a world record from as recently as 2003 and six seconds off of Haile Gebrselassie’s first world record from 2007. It is currently the 16th fastest all-time. An amazing 284 Kenyan results are entered into the top-500 as are 14 of the top 20 times in the history of the men’s marathon.
Ethiopia, a neighbour of Kenya’s has a population of over 91 million and they also generate a great number of world-class runners in the middle and long-distance events, but not to the same volume as Kenya. Remember, the population differences are massive.
So how do two small, third-world populations dominate their respective sports from just 2.7 million and 5.8 million people, respectively? The answer is multi-faceted and has been well documented in the media as well as in medical literature, for example running in East Africa is a part of everyday life from an early age; running is a main form of transportation. Diet, altitude, climate and lifestyle lend well to a distance running way of life. Economically, the Kenyans as well as the Jamaican’s see high-performance in sport as a way out of poverty, which is a powerful motivator. In contrast, to compete – especially in middle and long distance events in a first-world country – requires financial sacrifice, which is a disincentive.
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 has been done to date; 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. See below.
Recently, a 12-member committee, which is chaired by Professor Moni Wekesa, had cautioned that their investigations into rising doping cases in Kenya may stall due to lack of funds. When Athletics Illustrated asked Seppelt if this is a ruse, similar to JADCO’s lawyer Lackston Robinson being unable to decipher a lab report, he said, “If they talk about a major concern and the biggest threat for sport in their country, but are not able to afford money for an investigation, it makes me wonder. It shows obviously that some people want to avoid a real investigation. And Kiplagat’s threats to foreign coaches and managers distracts from the fact that Athletics Kenya never really fought seriously against drug abuse in athletics in Kenya before our research has been published in 2012. Also the Kenyan commission never approached us to have a discussion about our doping research. This makes it from my perspective even more doubtful, that they really interested in to get more facts. ”
For many years it was understood that the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) and its national partners were bumbling along far behind the cheaters. Wada and company and the IAAF – acting within the myriad of various international and national laws, as well as their own policies and guidelines – could not move as swiftly as those who are acting wholly outside the law. It appears now that Wada and company are catching up, albeit slowly. What isn’t clear is to what extent doping has been going on in Jamaica and Kenya and anywhere else for that matter. But what has changed is the IAAF’s and Wada’s ability to test in hard-to-reach third-world training sites. As stated previously, it is time for Wada and the IAAF to act swiftly and with force as discipline will act as a deterrent as well as set legal precedent.
Renato Canova’s athletes up to 2012, before leaving for China:
Moses Mosop – 2:03:06
Abel Kirui – 2:05:04
Wilson Kipsang (that he advises in his programs) – 2:05:49
Mary Keitany (coached directly by Canova’s disciple Gabriele Nicola) – 2:18:37
Marathon Runners directly coached by Canova in Kenya, but are Qatari
Nicholas Kemboi – 2:08:01
Ahmad Hassan – 2:08:36
Essa Rashed – 2:10:52
Silas Kiplagat – 1500m, Canova coaches along with Moses Kiptanui – 3:29.27
Sylvia Kibet – 5000m – 14:31.19
Florence Kiplagat – 10000m – 30:11.53
Lucy Kabuu – 10000m – 30:39.36
Lydia Wafula – 800m – 2:02.84
Thomas Longosiwa – 5000m – 12:51.95
Edwin Soi – 5000m – 12:52.40
Wilson Kiprop – 10000m – 27:26.93
The following are coached locally in Kenya by Charles Ngeno, in Keringet using Canova’s program:
Faith Kipyegon – 1500m – 4:09.48
Geoffrey Kirui – 10000m – 26:55.73
Track runners coached directly by Canova, but are Ugandan:
Docus Inzikuru – 3000m steeplechase – 9:15.04
Janet Achola – 1500m/3000 steeplechase – 4:09.51/10:05.30
Aselefech Mergia – 2:19:31
Dino Sefir – 2:04:50
Yemane Adhane – 2:04:48
Track runners with Canova programs, with and without a local coach, in Ethiopia:
Imane Merga – 5000m/10000m – 12:53.58/26:48.35
Yacob Jarso – 3000m steeplechase – 8:12.13
Abeba Arigawi – 1500m – 4:01.96
Track runners with Canova programs, under national coaches in Ethiopia:
Mekonnen Gebremedhin – 1500m – 3:31.57
Yenew Alamirew – 1500m – 3:35.09
Samuel Tsegay – marathon – 207:28