Drug cheats taint Kenya’s sparkling image

Friday December 20 2019

A runner takes part in a marathon. Doping has been a major problem among athletes in Kenya. PHOTO | REUTERS


While 2019 will be remembered as the “Eliud Kipchoge Year” of Kenya after making a quantum leap for mankind in distance running with his sub two-hour (1:59:40) marathon run in Austria last October, the country also earned the dubious distinction of being the number one most doped athletics nation in Africa and third in the world during the period under review.

A record 15 athletes were caught cheating to achieve victory in major international races with money being the motivating factor. All were banned for between two and four years.

However, Salome Biwott, 36, was handed a punitive eight-year punishment, the highest in history for a second offence, seven years after the first.

The fight against cheating, took an alarming turn by spreading into the teen age-group when a 17-year-old became the 43rd offender in the all-time Kenyan cheats list and 15th of 2019 when she was handed a four-year ban, announced by the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) of Global Athletics in November for testing positive for Norandrosterone, a metabolite of anabolic steroid Nandrolone, alleged to have been used on October 7, 2018, during the Summer Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires, Argentine.

The AIU also curtailed the career of three-time world and Olympics 1,500 metres champion Asbel Kiprop for a doping violation unearthed in 2018. Kiprop, who will sit out for the next four years, maintained his innocence.

“I have read the reports linking me to doping. I’ve been at the forefront in the fight against doping. I would not want to ruin all I have worked for since my first international race in 2007. I hope I can prove that I’m clean,” he said.


Kenya’s 5,000m runners Michael Kibet (20) and Daniel Simiyu (21) were not allowed to compete at the World Athletics Championships in Doha after failing to meet anti-doping requirements.

This sent shivers in athletics circles, showing the depth of infractions amongst stars of tomorrow and throwing down the gauntlet to raise awareness to the Anti Doping Agency of Kenya (Adak) amongst young Kenyans.

Kibet and Simiyu were expected to launch their international careers in Doha Worlds last September but their sins were those of omissions rather commissions after failing to complete the required three-out-of-competition tests.

The most abused substance by Kenya’s athletes included blood booster Erythropoietin (EPO - medically used to treat cases of anaemia- which stimulates the production of more red blood cells, thereby, improving oxygen levels in the body, Norandrosterone with Prednisone, Salbutamol and Steroids.

These subscription drugs are easily available over the counter especially in Rift Valley pharmacies.

A similar fate befell Jackline Wambui, winner of the 800m in the national trials for the Doha Worlds and Linda Kageha, a member of the mixed relays in the same championships after they failed to undergo the testosterone tests, an unfortunate incident which proved cheating has transcended gender barriers.

The trio's suspension brought to 15 the number of Kenyan elite athletes that AIU has either suspended or banned for doping offences this year.

Others include African 10,000m champion Joyce Chepkirui, 2017 Tokyo Marathon champion Sarah Chepchirchir, World Half Marathon record holder Abraham Kiptum, former world 1,500m champion Kiprop and Olympic women’s marathon champion Jemimah Sumgong.

Not to be left behind was Vincent Yator, third in 2018 Honolulu Marathon with a personal best time 2:09:59. His sample showed traces of prohibited substances testosterone, prednisone and prednisolone substances.

The 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth and Africa 10,000m champion Joyce Chepkirui and long distance runner John Jacob Kibet Kendagor were also suspended alongside the 2017 Tokyo Marathon champion Sarah Chepchirchir, World Half Marathon record holder Abraham Kiptum and 2017 World Champions 5,000m representative Cyrus Rutto.

Others are, Hilary Kepkosgei Yego, Samson Mungai Kagia, Lucy Kabuu, Salome Jerono Biwott and Felix Kirwa.

An athletes conference held in Eldoret early this month which was attended by AUI officials Thomas Capdevielle and Aditya Kumar was aimed at informing runners to understand the doping subject, including the importance of having a valid Biological Passport.

The Athlete Biological Passport programme was started in 2012 and since then 41 athletes have been banned for doping after being involved in doping-related cases.

Russia, which was this month banned from international competition by the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada), leads the world of cheats with 87 cases followed by India (42 cases). Morocco (30) is second in Africa and fourth in the world. The United States has 17 while Ethiopia has 12.

Kenya ended the year in third position after Russia and India with the largest pool of athletes banned for doping from international competition, according to latest report by Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU).

Between July and November seven Kenyans were barred from competing for anomalies in their Athlete Biological Passport samples or failure to show up for testing.

Kenya was almost barred from competing in the 2016 Rio Olympics in the aftermath of high-profile doping scandals before the government stepped in and promised to wipe out the vice.

But one year later, Sumgong, winner of the women’s marathon gold, the first by a Kenyan woman, tested positive for the banned substance erythropoietin (EPO) and was suspended for four years. She was followed by Kiprop.

Between 2004 and August last year, 138 Kenyan athletes tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, according to a Wada report published in September last year.