Kenya
AP

Rules bent to complete drug testing in Kenya

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ELDORET, Kenya (AP) — From the moment the needle leaves the arm of an elite athlete in Kenya, the clock is ticking. The 3 milliliters, less than a teaspoon, of freshly collected rich, red blood offer potentially valuable intelligence about the extent of the doping crisis eating at the East African nation’s hard-earned reputation as a powerhouse of distance running. But the sample must be delivered to a laboratory quickly, within 36 hours, for testing.

And that is a major problem, because Kenya has no capable lab of its own. The nearest one is thousands of kilometers (miles) away.

Sometimes, rules are bent to get the job done.

The blood tube, sealed and signed for, is packed with others into a cool box to keep them refrigerated on their odyssey. The courier clambers into his battered but sturdy car. To make the flight out of Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport later that day, he must speed down 340 kilometers (210 miles) of heart-in-the-mouth highway — from Eldoret in the Kenyan highlands, across the Great Rift Valley, and up the other side to the capital.

He will cruise past the crushed wreck of the Mercedes that former marathon world-record holder Paul Tergat plowed into an oncoming truck in 2010, miraculously escaping severe injury, and the forest memorial near the Equator to more than 100 people who burned to death when a gasoline tanker overturned in 2009, spewing fuel that exploded when someone lit a cigarette. If alert and lucky, he’ll avoid the suicidal farm animals and marauding baboons that stray without warning onto the weather- and truck-beaten road, not rip tires in one of the jagged potholes, and not bust shock absorbers on the large, aggressive speedbumps.

Restoring trust in Kenya’s running industry rests on getting samples collected from elite runners who will be expected to light up the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August to technicians at overseas labs. With 38 runners banned for positive doping tests since the last Olympics in London in 2012, Kenyan authorities are facing intense international pressure to get their house in order. But the terrain and other constraints in Kenya are so challenging that those involved in anti-doping efforts there for the International Association of Athletics Federations, the global governing body of track and field, say they sometimes have to tip-off athletes in advance that they’re coming.

Anti-doping tests are meant to be sprung on athletes by surprise, to increase the chances of catching cheats unaware. But exceptions are regularly being made on the high-altitude plateaus of western Kenya where legions of runners live and train. Critics say this special treatment gives cheats a potential window of opportunity to beat the system.

Training there in February, Canadian marathoner Reid Coolsaet says he got an 8 p.m. call one night telling him to report at 6 a.m. the next morning for IAAF testing.

After an hour’s drive to Eldoret, Coolsaet was met by a who’s who of Kenyan stars also called there to give blood, including the Olympic and World 800m champion, David Rudisha, marathon world-record holder Dennis Kimetto and about six others. Coolsaet, a veteran of the 2012 Games and multiple World Championships, said it was the first time he’d ever had advance notice of a test.

“It was weird,” Coolsaet said. “In Canada, I wouldn’t know the night before, I would just get a knock on the door.”

Blood doping experts say cheats tipped-off in advance could use the overnight hours to confound the “Athlete Biological Passport,” the tool the IAAF and other sports use to look for tell-tale signs of doping in athletes’ blood.

“A doped athlete will mask suspicious values by diluting their blood, either by drinking copious fluid or infusing saline,” Australian scientist Michael Ashenden said. “It could be argued that it is worse than conducting no test at all, because a doped athlete may cease to be target-tested if they provide manipulated samples that wrongly indicate they are clean.”

Kyle Barber, the IAAF out-of-competition testing coordinator, said the potential for manipulation “is minimal.” But one of the experts the IAAF uses to analyze ABP results, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the program publicly, said the overnight window could be sufficient for cheats to make their blood values look normal enough to no longer trigger red flags.

Under World Anti-Doping Agency rules, giving athletes advance notice is allowed in “exceptional and justifiable circumstances.” WADA spokesman Ben Nichols said that although the agency has no “specific evidence” of the practice in Kenya, “it would be most concerning.”

“No advance notice testing underpins every successful anti-doping program,” Nichols said. “If athletes are being told ahead of time when they will be tested, this would be outside the requirements.”

Advance notice is only given in Kenya for some ABP testing, Barber said. Athletes get no advance notice for all other anti-doping tests, including the collection of urine samples, that don’t have to reach labs so quickly.

ABP samples that aren’t delivered to labs within 36 hours of leaving the athlete’s arm are logged as invalid, Barber said. From Nairobi, five labs are within range — in Germany, Switzerland, Qatar, Sweden and London. To be guaranteed the blood can get through customs and there on time the next day, the courier must leave Eldoret by mid-morning for afternoon flights. That leaves sample collectors just a few early-morning hours to fill their tubes.

For runners living together in training camps, the process can be relatively straightforward: Sample collectors can show up unannounced, wake athletes up and draw blood in time to hook up with the courier. But for athletes who live or train alone in hard-to-find, far-flung locations, collectors may opt to tell them to report the following morning at a central spot and then bulk-test them as a group, filing the courier’s cool box and thus getting better value for money. The transport alone generally costs about 2,000 euros ($2,200) a trip. The IAAF started collecting ABP samples in Kenya in 2013; “the majority have been advance notice,” with athletes told beforehand, Barber said.

Advance notice would generally be given when testing larger groups of perhaps 12-15 athletes, but not for smaller missions on three to five athletes, Barber said.

“It’s not the way that we would like to do things, given a choice,” he said. However, “we are of the opinion, at present, given the limitations involved, that doing some testing is better than doing nothing.”

Ashenden and Barber agree that a better solution would be to analyze ABP samples in Kenya, giving collectors time enough to no longer tell athletes in advance. Barber said the IAAF is working with WADA and the Kenyan government to make that happen, but getting necessary approvals to set up ABP analysis in-country is a long process.

“We would hope to have that done before the end of this year and that changes the landscape entirely,” he said.

Ashenden said: “In my view the lack of a testing facility in Kenya is a red herring used to disguise inaction.”

“To suggest that it is too much trouble, or too expensive, to set up a satellite facility in a successful athletic nation like Kenya indicates to me that anti-doping authorities need to revisit their priorities,” he said. “Where there is a will there is a way, but when there is no will there are just a thousand excuses.”

Even now, the scale of IAAF testing in Kenya is unprecedented and “ever expanding,” Barber said. Some of the biggest names on the growing list of banned runners were caught using samples collected in Kenya, including Boston and Chicago marathon champion Rita Jeptoo and two-time World cross country champion Emily Chebet Muge.

“Compared to where we were two years ago, the situation has moved on incredibly,” Barber said.

MORE: Seb Coe: Kenya could be banned from Rio due to doping record

Anna van der Breggen is first cyclist to sweep road world titles in 25 years

Anna van der Breggen
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Dutchwoman Anna van der Breggen added the road race crown to her time trial victory at the world road cycling championships, becoming the second rider in history to win both events at the same edition.

“This is, for me, pretty good so far,” she said.

Van der Breggen, the Rio Olympic road race champion, won after a solo attack with more than 25 miles left of an 89-mile course in Imola, Italy, on Saturday.

She prevailed after more than four hours of racing by 80 seconds over countrywoman Annemiek van Vleuten, the 2019 champion. Van Vleuten raced nine days after breaking her left wrist in a Giro Rosa crash.

Italian Elisa Longo Borghini took bronze in the same time as van Vleuten after losing a photo-finish sprint. Lauren Stephens was the top American in 11th.

Full results are here.

The race lacked American standout Chloé Dygert, who crashed out of the time trial while leading on Thursday and required leg surgery.

Van der Breggen joined Frenchwoman Jeannie Longo as the only male or female cyclists to sweep the time trial and road race at a single worlds. Longo did so in 1995 at age 36.

Van der Breggen, 30, said in May that she will retire after the 2021 Olympic season.

It will be the end of one of the great cycling careers. She is now a three-time world champion and nine-time world medalist to go along with her road race gold and time trial bronze in her Olympic debut in Rio.

Worlds conclude Sunday with the men’s road race. A TV and stream schedule is here.

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MORE: A more equal future for women’s cycling? Lizzie Deignan has high hopes

2020 French Open TV, live stream schedule

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Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams can each tie Grand Slam singles titles records at the French Open, with daily live coverage among NBC Sports, Peacock and Tennis Channel.

NBC coverage starts Sunday with first-round action at Roland Garros, its 38th straight year covering the event. Tennis Channel airs the majority of weekday coverage. Peacock, NBC Universal’s new streaming service, has middle weekend broadcasts.

All NBC TV coverage alo streams on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

Nadal is the primary men’s storyline, favored to tie Roger Federer‘s male record of 20 major titles and extend his own record of 12 French Open crowns. Federer is absent after knee operations earlier this year.

The Spaniard’s primary competition is top-ranked Novak Djokovic, the 2016 French Open champion whose only defeat in 2020 was a U.S. Open default for hitting a ball that struck a linesperson in the throat.

Williams bids again to match the overall Grand Slam singles mark of 24 held by Australian Margaret Court. Williams, a three-time French Open champion, lost in the third and fourth round the last two years and is coming off a U.S. Open semifinal exit.

The women’s field is led by 2018 champion Simona Halep but lacks defending champion Ash Barty of Australia, not traveling due to the coronavirus pandemic. Also out: U.S. Open winner Naomi Osaka, citing a sore hamstring and tight turnaround from prevailing in New York two weeks ago.

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MORE: How Jay-Z, Beyonce helped Naomi Osaka come out of her shell

French Open TV Schedule

Date Time (ET) Network Round
Sunday, Sept. 27 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel First Round
12-3 p.m. NBC
Monday, Sept. 28 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel First Round
Tuesday, Sept. 29 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel First Round
Wednesday, Sept. 30 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel Second Round
Thursday, Oct. 1 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel Second Round
Friday, Oct. 2 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel Third Round
Saturday, Oct. 3 5 a.m.-12 p.m. Tennis Channel Third Round
11 a.m. Peacock
Sunday, Oct. 4 5 a.m.-12 p.m. Tennis Channel Fourth Round
11 a.m. Peacock
Monday, Oct. 5 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel Fourth Round
11 a.m. Peacock
Tuesday, Oct. 6 6 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tennis Channel Quarterfinals
Wednesday, Oct. 7 6 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tennis Channel Quarterfinals
Thursday, Oct. 8 5 a.m.-2 p.m. Tennis Channel Women’s Semis
11 a.m. NBC, NBCSN
Friday, Oct. 9 5 a.m.-4 p.m. Tennis Channel Men’s Semis
11 a.m. NBC, NBCSN
Saturday, Oct. 10 9 a.m. NBC Women’s Final
Sunday, Oct. 11 9 a.m. NBC Men’s Final