Just about twenty-four hours ago, I released the story that Rita Jeptoo, two time Chicago Marathon champion, had tested positive for a banned substance, with an out of competition urine sample in late September.
As the world media began to research my assertions, several more facts came to light, as well as a post denial response from Athletics Kenya, a confirmation by Federico Rosa to Associated Press, and the assertion by AFP that the banned substance was EPO. Somewhere in the mountain of data, a data was confirmed by Mr. Rosa of September 25 for the positive test of a banned substance, in an out of competition testing of a urine sample, the A sample, for Rita Jeptoo.
Rita Jeptoo, photo by PhotoRun.net
Now is time to clear up some misconceptions from the last twenty-four hours. I am attempting to be my own ombudsman, so apologies before I begin.
On Friday morning, October 31, when I entered the media area at the New York City Marathon, I was not sure what I would meet. This was one of the larger stories I have published in my career, and I have always been hesitant about writing on the drug issue, because, quite frankly, it is hard to remove the unsubstantiated from facts.
On top of that, one writer, a keen observer of the sport and one my most respected associates, asked me a question I just had not prepared for. She queried, " What was the agenda of the people who confirmed the story for you?"
Let's start from the top. Nearly every writer I met, congratulated me on the piece, and even those who would prefer to be left out of any drug story noted that, at the very least I got the facts correct.
Well, that was a good start.
I had been reticent of writing about A samples in the past, but, in this situation I was not. One, I felt that my confirmations were solid. Two, and most importantly, I was, and am, quite concerned about another drug cheat winning the World Marathon Majors prize purse. Kudos to World Marathon Majors, who responded within four to five hours of my story with their official release, postponing the award ceremony.
Athletics Kenya responded per my expectations. Mr. Isaiah Kiplagat, who seems to be universally disappointing to those who have experienced his self absorbed actions, is the focal point of much discussion within the Kenyan government and the Kenyan sports world. In 2013, he suggested that Moses Kiptanui's warning of widespread drug use in the ranks of Kenyan athletes was overblown. Suggesting that one of the largest stars in Kenyan athletics was not in receipt of the facts, was, the beginning of a series of mistakes or miscues, for Mr. Kiplagat.
The truth of the matter is, no one knows how widespread banned drug use is in Kenya. But, with ignorance, with rumors, the numbers always get larger and the sport and country are besmirched.
Here are the the facts, as I understand them: Drug testing was not even considered a high priority until the last two years in the country. Much of the limited success of the drug testing program is due to the diligence of the IAAF, WADA and financial support from the World Marathon Majors. But, that money only goes so far. With Athletics Kenya using the shocked and surprised face when a positive happens does not help. Many find such a reaction to be disingenuous at best.
A note would be good on the IAAF at this point. Their job, as the governing body of the global sport is to lead by example, which is what they endeavor to do. Not announcing testing until their protocols are in place is wise. The IAAF's job is to encourage federations to improve themselves, their sports brand, their athletes, and how they promote athletics. Sometimes that works, and sometimes, it does not.
Drug use among athletes in Kenya, and Ethiopia is a much larger issue than many suspect, from the information that is being presented to me. Sifting through such information is difficult. Again, what is the agenda? How to verify? Can it be this big of a problem? Those are just some of the questions I ask myself each day.
Athletics Kenya blaming drug use on the "foreign devils", be them agents, managers and or doctors is short-sighted, ill-conceived, and in many cases, just wrong. Athletics Kenya wants a quick answer to a problem that many countries in the West have embraced for decades, and have recently come to manage better. Sometimes, I believe, that Athletics Kenya has just memorized the characters from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, where the big, bad Europeans are the reason why athletics is coming apart at the seams in Kenya.
Education for the young athletes, their coaches and the community in general on sports ethics, and the shame and draconian measures taken when one test positive (four year bans go into effect in 2015) also need to be highlighted. A vigilant approach, and new leadership that understands the needs of the athletes and the regard the people and government of Kenya place with the sport of athletics is required.
But, most of all, out of competition drug testing throughout Kenya and Ethiopia, out of the control or reach of the national federations just makes sense. This way, it keeps even the odor of a federation being involved in any issues over drug testing.
We will always have cheats in sports. We can minimize their effect with transparent testing, better drug testing protocols, and a complete focus on out of competition testing in the remotest training areas, or the athletes just are not allowed to race. We also need to teach children where sports plays a role in their lives and that athletes need to have a higher standard to attain, not a lower set of standards. Being an athlete is an opportunity, and one must accept standards to use that opportunity.
World Marathon Majors, as one keen writer wrote me this past evening, has been a unflagging supporter of out of competition testing. The athlete biological passports, championed by the IAAF, has been a huge plus in fighting doping.
The truth is this: Athletics Kenya has a problem with a national resource and a world treasure: Kenyan distance running. Diligent testing, working with agents, coaches and the medical community to censure the rogues, and increase out of competition testing protects all involved. I believe that, with a successful testing program, most Kenyan and Ethiopian successes on the track and roads would continue, however, the odor of drug cheating, the stain to the reputation and honor of generations of Kenyan sports people, in past generations and in the future, are at stake.
RunBlogRun will continue to provide updates on various aspects of the Rita Jeptoo controversy, as they develop.
For the rest of the weekend, I would like to focus on the athletes who run and race and do it without cheating, which, I still believe, is the majority of athletes.
Doxology of updates on Rita Jeptoo Controversy from around the world in last twenty four hours
Marathon Star Jeptoo tests positive for epo, by Stefan Smith & Aileen Kimutai, for AFP
athletics: Athletics Kenya agonize over Rita Jeptoo's positive test, by Evelyn Watta, SportsNewsArea.com
Doping-The marathoner Rita Jeptoo Tests Positive for EPO, from L'Equipe.com
Rita Jeptoo, Kenyan Marathon Champion, Fails Doping Test, by Mary Pilon and Jere Longman, for the New York Times
Chicago Marathon Champion Rita Jeptoo fails doping test, by Gerald Imray, AP