An unusually large number of runners from the east African nation have been suspended recently
It is 34 years since Cosmas Ndeti became the first-ever Kenyan runner to be suspended for doping. Ndeti tested positive for ephedrine at the 1988 World Cross Country Championships. He argued that he didn’t realised the banned stimulant was in a cold remedy, but he was barred from the sport for three months before returning to win three Boston Marathon titles in the mid-1990s.
Since then Kenya has earned a reputation as a nation that produces more than its fair share of athletes who fail drugs tests. John Ngugi, for example, won Olympic 5000m gold in Seoul a few months after Ndeti’s positive test in addition to five world cross-country titles, but his career ended with a four-year ban in 1993 after refusing an out-of-competition test.
More recently Asbel Kiprop, the 2008 Olympic and three-time world 1500m champion, was given a four-year ban in 2019 after testing positive for EPO. Wilson Kipsang set a world marathon record of 2:03:23 in 2013 and won the London Marathon twice but was banned in 2020 for whereabouts failures.
Rita Jeptoo, a multiple Chicago and Boston marathon winner, plus Jemima Sumgong, who won the London Marathon and Olympic title in 2016, were also banned for taking EPO.
In recent days and weeks the number of Kenyan athletes suspended for breaking anti-doping rules has accelerated, though. Recent cases include:
Diana Kipyokei – 2021 Boston Marathon winner (triamcinolone acetonide).
Betty Wilson Lempus – 65:47 half-marathon runner (tampering).
Marius Kipserem – three-time Rotterdam Marathon winner with a best of 2:04:10 (EPO).
Philemon Kacheran – 2:05:19 marathon man (testosterone).
Justus Kimutai – INEOS 1:59 Challenge pacemaker with best of 2:09 (whereabouts failures).
Mark Kangogo – winner of the Sierre-Zinal mountain race in Switzerland in August (triamcinolone acetonide and norandrosterone)
Lawrence Cherono – 2019 Chicago and Boston marathon champion was suspended one day before racing in the World Champs marathon in Eugene (trimetazidine).
Keneth Kiprop Renju – clocked 58:35 at RAK Half-Marathon this year in addition to winning the Kenyan 10,000m title (Methasterone).
Ibrahim Mukunga Wachira – famously won a half-marathon in Estonia in 2017 wearing only socks (Norandrosterone).
Stella Barsosio – 2021 Rotterdam Marathon winner was, along with Purity Changwony, set home by the Kenyan team from the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham this year for doping-related issues.
Kumari Taki – 2016 world under-20 1500m champion was also sent home from Birmingham for anti-doping reasons.
Despite threats to put drug cheats in jail under criminal law in Kenya, the number of athletes caught for cheating appears to get getting worse. It is not hard to see why either. Winning international road races is a lucrative business and one victory can earn an athlete more money than they would make during many years at home labouring on a farm.
In particular, there is the rise of the drug triamcinolone acetonide – a steroid which helps reduce weight and increases endurance – with the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) identifying 10 Kenyans who have tested positive for it since last year.
One of the more high-profile athletes to be caught lately is Kipyokei, who won last year’s Boston Marathon in 2:24:45. Unusually, she has admitted cheating and the Boston title is likely to go to the runner-up that day, Edna Kiplagat.
Similar to Kiyokei is the male marathoner Kacheran, who has also admitted fault and subsequently had a four-year ban reduced to three years. Kacheran, incidentally, is a training partner of Eliud Kipchoge, paced for Kipchoge at the INEOS 1:59 Challenge where the two-hour barrier was broken and they share the same coach, Patrick Sang.
Along with Alex Korio, who was given a two-year ban in 2020 for whereabouts failures, plus Kimutai and Kipserem (listed above), this means four pacemakers from Kipchoge’s INEOS 1:59 Challenge in 2019 have been suspended, although the pacing entourage that day was simply drawn from many of the world’s top Nike athletes that year and included runners from a number of different countries.
Not surprisingly there are calls for Kenya to join Russia in being banned from international athletics. World Athletics are unlikely to go that far but perhaps individual event organisers can make their own stand by prioritising their home-grown talent instead of inviting – and paying – Kenyans to compete.
» To subscribe to AW magazine, CLICK HERE