Lilian Mariita
AP

Kenyan runners keep competing during doping bans

Leave a comment

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — For some Kenyan runners, a doping ban isn’t a total ban.

Benjamin Kiprop Serem bagged 50,000 Indian rupees ($740) for winning the Calicut Mini-Marathon in India on March 1, 2015, midway through his two-year ban for using the steroid nandrolone at the Beirut Marathon in 2013.

Bernard Mwendia Muthoni placed sixth in the Melaka River International Marathon in Malaysia last December, even though his two-year ban for a nandrolone byproduct runs to Nov. 15 this year.

That banned runners can compete speaks to loose policing of Kenya’s offshore running industry. Kenya’s athletics federation says it has 4,000 athletes registered in its database and concedes that it struggles to keep close track of runners who compete, and often train and live, overseas.

Before he was suspended in February following allegations that he solicited bribes from two athletes, Athletics Kenya CEO Isaac Mwangi said in an Associated Press interview that tracking down Kenyan runners who have tested positive abroad sometimes proves impossible. Many of the Kenyans caught doping weren’t registered with the federation, Mwangi said. Often, Athletics Kenya only became aware of them when word of their failed tests reached federation headquarters in Nairobi, he said.

“Many of these athletes … are caught in Mexico, some are in China, especially in Macau. Those are areas that are difficult to control,” Mwangi said. “When these athletes go there and get tested and they turn positive, that’s when we get to know who they are. Because we have a lot of athletes running all over the world.”

“Some of them left the country like 10 or so years ago, but they are still competing in different cities in Mexico, Beirut, and other cities,” he said. “The race directors, the managers, they need to be a bit more vigilant.”

Race directors failing to do due diligence are accepting racers even after the International Association of Athletics Federations, the sport’s governing body, has announced doping bans on its web site. By the latest AP count, based entirely on cases confirmed by the IAAF, 40 Kenyan runners have been banned for doping violations since the 2012 London Olympics.

The IAAF published Serem’s ban in its doping sanctions newsletter on March 28, 2014, nearly a full year before he raced in India.

The date of birth for Serem provided by the Calicut organizers — April 27, 1987 — matched that published by the IAAF. Still, race organizers told AP they didn’t know he was banned.

“We’ll look into it and see what can be done, and also ensure to take care of such cases in the future,” they told AP by email.

Muthoni’s ban, for a positive test in 2013 at a 10-kilometer race in Jakarta, Indonesia, was announced in the Dec. 8, 2015, edition of the IAAF newsletter. He raced the Melaka marathon 12 days later, registering his date of birth as May 29, 1987, Melaka race director Azmar Hamid said. That matches the birthdate published by the IAAF for the Muthoni who is banned.

Hamid told AP that he didn’t check whether competitors were serving doping suspensions. The marathon didn’t conduct drug testing, he said. It offered a top prize of 7,500 Malaysian ringgits ($1,820).

“Many Kenyans came,” Hamid said. “We registered them all.”

Under World Anti-Doping Agency rules, banned athletes who continue to compete at sanctioned or government-funded events can have their suspensions extended.

Calicut organizers said that even though Indian athletics officials officiated at their 10K, they don’t believe their race falls under WADA’s rules.

“However, had we known Mr. Kiprop (Serem) had been banned, on doping grounds, we would’ve not allowed him to take part,” they wrote to AP.

The Melaka race is organized by the local state government and city council, with help from Malaysia’s athletics federation and the Malaysian tourism board among its sponsors, said Mohamad Fairuz Abdul Karim, another of the race organizers.

At other races, doping sanctions were announced too late for organizers to act.

Lilian Mariita competed for months in U.S. road races while provisionally suspended for doping. Athletics Kenya told her in an April 8, 2015, email to her agent that she tested positive for the banned endurance-boosting hormone EPO and should no longer compete.

But not until December was her definitive ban — since extended to eight years for a second failed drugs test — published in the IAAF newsletter or on its regularly updated list of suspended athletes.

Three days after the Athletics Kenya suspension, Mariita lined up at a half-marathon in St Louis, Missouri, and won $1,500 for first place.

“That’s disgraceful,” race organizer Nancy Lieberman told AP. “She’s obviously not going to give the money back.”

PHOTOS: Inside Kenya distance running training camp

Novak Djokovic rolls at French Open; top women escape

Novak Djokovic
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Novak Djokovic began what could be a march to his 18th Grand Slam title, sweeping Swede Mikael Ymer 6-0, 6-2, 6-3 in the French Open first round on Tuesday.

The top seed Djokovic lost just seven points in the first set. He gets Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis in the second round in a half of the draw that includes no other man with French Open semifinal experience.

Djokovic had plenty going for him into Roland Garros, seeking to repeat his 2016 run to the title. The chilly weather is similar to four years ago.

“I don’t like usually comparing the years,” he said. “But I think [the conditions are] quite suitable to my style of the game.”

As is Djokovic’s form. His only loss in 2020 was when he was defaulted at the U.S. Open for hitting a ball in anger that struck a linesperson in the throat.

Djokovic got a break with the draw when No. 3 seed Dominic Thiem was put in No. 2 Rafael Nadal‘s half. The Serbian also won his clay-court tune-up event in Rome, where he received warnings in back-to-back matches for breaking a racket and uttering an obscenity.

“I don’t think that [the linesperson incident] will have any significant negative impact on how I feel on the tennis court,” Djokovic said before Roland Garros. “I mean, I won the tournament in Rome just a week later after what happened in New York.

“I really want to be my best version as a player, as a human being on the court, and win a tennis match. Because of the care that I have for that, I sometimes express my emotions in good way or maybe less good way.”

If Djokovic can lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires two Sundays from now, he will move within two of Roger Federer‘s career Slams record. Also notable: He would keep Nadal from tying Federer’s record and head into the Australian Open in January, his signature Slam, with a chance to match Nadal at 19.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Earlier Tuesday, No. 2 Karolina Pliskova and No. 4 Sofia Kenin each needed three sets to reach the second round.

The Czech Pliskova rallied past Egyptian qualifier Mayar Sherif 6-7 (9), 6-2, 6-4. Pliskova, the highest-ranked player without a major title, next gets 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia.

“Let’s not talk about my level [of play],” Pliskova said. “I think there is big room for improvement.”

Kenin, the American who won the Australian Open in February, outlasted Russian Liudmila Samsonova 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.

“It doesn’t matter how you win — ugly, pretty, doesn’t matter,” Kenin said on Tennis Channel.

She gets Romanian Ana Bogdan in the second round. Only one other seed — No. 14 Elena Rybakina — is left in Kenin’s section en route to a possible quarterfinal.

American Jen Brady, who made a breakthrough run to the U.S. Open semifinals, was beaten by Danish qualifier Clara Tauson  6-4, 3-6, 9-7.

Sam Querrey nearly made it eight American men into the second round, serving for the match in the third set. But he succumbed to 13th-seeded Russian Andrey Rublev 6-7 (5), 6-7 (4), 7-5, 6-4, 6-3. It’s still the best first-round showing for U.S. men since nine advanced in 1996.

The second round begins Wednesday, highlighted by Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal.

MORE: Halep, Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

U.S. men off to best French Open start in 24 years

Sebastian Korda
Getty Images
Leave a comment

The last time U.S. men started this well at the French Open, Sebastian Korda wasn’t alive and his dad had yet to win a Grand Slam singles title.

Eight American men are into the second round at Roland Garros, the largest contingent in the last 64 since 1996. It could have been nine, had Sam Querrey served out the match in the third set against 13th seed Andrey Rublev of Russia.

Still, the U.S. has more men in the second round than any other nation. Astonishing, given U.S. men went a collective 1-9 at the 2019 French Open.

Back in 1996, nine American men won first-round matches. That group included Pete SamprasAndre AgassiJim Courier and Michael Chang (in Sampras’ deepest run in Paris, to the semifinals).

Clay has long been kryptonite for this generation of Americans — the last U.S. man to make a Roland Garros quarterfinal was Agassi in 2003.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

This group includes veterans like Jack Sock, who swept countryman Reilly Opelka 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 on Monday. Sock, 28, was once ranked eighth in the world.

He then dropped out of the rankings entirely, missing time due to injury and going 10 months between tour-level match wins. He’s now at No. 310 and preparing to play No. 3 Dominic Thiem in the second round.

“A pretty horrific two years in a row,” Sock said. “I’m not opposed to silencing some haters after the last couple years I’ve gone through. I’ve read and seen enough of it, heard enough of it. I’m kind of ready to reestablish myself out there, let people know that I’m back.”

Then there’s 35-year-old John Isner, the big server who swept a French wild card in round one. Isner, the highest seeded U.S. man at No. 21, has posted some decent Roland Garros results, reaching the fourth round three times.

There are new faces, too. Taylor Fritz is seeded 27, aged 22 and in an open section of the draw to make his first Grand Slam fourth round.

On Sunday, 20-year-old Korda became the youngest U.S. man to win a French Open main-draw match since an 18-year-old Andy Roddick beat Chang in 2001.

He is the son of 1998 Australian Open champion Petr Korda and brother of the world’s second- and 22nd-ranked female golfers (Nelly and Jessica).

So far, Sebastian’s biggest feats: winning the 2018 Australian Open junior title and, in his only golf tournament, beating both of his sisters when he was 11. It was around that age that he gave up ice hockey and focused solely on tennis.

Korda was hooked after watching a Czech whom his dad coached, Radek Stepanek, at the U.S. Open in 2009.

“He played Djokovic on [Arthur] Ashe [Stadium] like at 10:30 at night,” Korda, nicknamed Sebi, said on Tennis Channel. “Completely packed. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I went home, and I was like, this is exactly what I want to do.”

An American man is already guaranteed to make the third round in Paris. Korda faces Isner on Thursday.

“I grew up on the clay,” Korda said, “so I know how to play on it a little bit.”

MORE: Halep, Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!