Kenya’s doping program inept, but not corrupt

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Never before have Kenya’s fabulously successful runners gone to the Olympics in such a negative light.

Kenya has a doping problem, no doubt, but seemingly not on the same scale as Russia. There’s no indication that the East African country has a state-sponsored conspiracy to hide cheating.

While Russia’s anti-doping program appears corrupt – leading to a ban for its track and field team and a narrowly-avoided blanket ban for all Russian competitors from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics – Kenya’s drug-testing program is best described as inept.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t serious issues and allegations in Kenya. The country’s track team goes to Rio – there was a moment when it also might have been thrown out – with its reputation at stake.

The Kenyan doping mess explained:

THE PROBLEMS: – At least 40 Kenyan track and field athletes have failed doping tests and been banned since the 2012 Olympics in London.

Four senior officials at the Kenyan track federation, including the top two, have been suspended by the IAAF – track and field’s international governing body – after being accused of trying to corrupt the anti-doping process.

It’s almost three months since Kenya’s entire drug-testing program was declared non-compliant and suspended by the World Anti-Doping Agency because of problems with how it’s run.

Seven men – five Kenyans, an Italian coach and an Italian agent – are facing criminal charges in two separate cases in Kenya related to allegations of supplying and administering banned substances to runners.

THE CONTEXT: – Although 40 doping cases in four years is a significant number, the vast majority so far have been lower-level runners who haven’t won major titles. There are a couple of exceptions: Marathon champion Rita Jeptoo and two-time cross-country world champion Emily Chebet are among those banned.

Kenyan authorities promised extensive testing of their Olympic athletes to show that the stars – such as 800-meter world-record holder David Rudisha – are clean. In the last few weeks, the sports minister said, around 400 tests were conducted on Kenya’s full Olympic team of just over 100 athletes.

The Kenyan track federation president, vice president, the former track team manager and federation chief executive are all being investigated by the IAAF over allegations they sought to hide positive doping tests or arrange lenient bans while seeking bribes from the athletes involved. Unlike Russia, the anti-doping agency and government departments haven’t also been implicated.

While Kenya’s anti-doping program is currently declared non-compliant by WADA, so is Spain’s. Non-compliance doesn’t immediately mean a country should be banned from competition. It does mean that the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya wasn’t able to do tests in the run-up to the Olympics, leaving it to one of WADA’s regional bodies to do so.

The court cases involving Kenyan men accused of supplying banned substances to athletes appear to be getting to the heart of Kenya’s problem. Allegations were made as far back as 2012 that people were selling banned substances to athletes in remote training bases. Kenyan police and anti-doping authorities have clearly been slow in shutting that drug supply line down.

WHAT SPORTS AUTHORITIES HAVE DONE: – WADA described Kenya’s anti-doping regulations as “a complete mess” when it declared the country non-compliant in May, but WADA doesn’t have the power to ban Kenya’s track and field team from international competitions.

That falls to the IAAF and, in the case of the Olympics, the International Olympic Committee. The IAAF stopped short of throwing out Kenya, but placed the country on a doping “monitoring list” until the end of the year. If there aren’t significant improvements, the IAAF could decide on sterner punishment.

In June, the IOC told international sports federations to test individual athletes in Kenya to make sure they are clean before Rio.

REPUTATION AT STAKE: – Kenya’s sporting pride revolves around its world-beating distance runners. If just one of Kenya’s athletes fails a drug test at the Rio Olympics, then all of them – maybe unfairly – are going to be under suspicion. It’ll also probably revive the question of why Kenya’s track team was given the benefit of the doubt and allowed to go to the Olympics.

Kenya’s javelin world champion Julius Yego said the scrutiny is going to be severe: “Everybody will be looking at the Kenyans and all sorts of bad things will be mentioned about Kenya.”

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta repeatedly warned the athletes against doping when he addressed the Olympic team last week.

“Show them we can win clean. Even if we don’t win, show them we can play clean,” Kenyatta said.

MORE: Kenyan police search agents’ hotel rooms at Olympic Trials

Asher Hong leads U.S. men’s gymnastics world team selection camp after first day

Asher Hong
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Asher Hong, 18, posted the highest all-around score on the first of two days of competition at the U.S. men’s gymnastics selection camp to determine the last three spots on the team for the world championships that start in three weeks.

Hong, bidding to become the youngest U.S. man to compete at worlds since Danell Leyva in 2009, totaled 84.6 points in Colorado Springs. He edged Colt Walker by one tenth. Tokyo Olympians Shane Wiskus (84.15) and Yul Moldauer (83.95) were next. Full apparatus-by-apparatus scores are here.

Brody Malone, who repeated as U.S. all-around champion at August’s national championships, and runner-up Donnell Whittenburg already clinched spots on the five-man team for worlds in Liverpool, Great Britain. They did not compete Monday, though their results from the first day of nationals are shown in the official scores.

The three remaining team spots will not necessarily go to the top three all-arounders at this week’s camp, which is supposed to be weighed equally with results from August’s nationals. Hong was third at nationals, but if excluding difficulty bonus points from that meet that will not be considered by the committee, would have finished behind Walker and Moldauer in August.

A selection committee is expected to announce the team soon after the second and final day of selection camp competition on Wednesday evening. The committee will look at overall scoring potential for the world team final, where three men go per apparatus, and medal potential in individual events.

Stephen Nedoroscik, who last year became the first American to win a world title on the pommel horse, is trying to make the team solely on that apparatus. He wasn’t at his best at nationals and struggled again on Monday, hurting his chances of displacing an all-arounder for one of the last three spots.

The U.S. has reason to emphasize the team event over individual medals at this year’s worlds. It will clinch an Olympic berth by finishing in the top three, and its medal hopes are boosted by the absence of the Russians who won the Olympic team title. All gymnasts from Belarus and Russia are banned indefinitely from international competition due to the war in Ukraine.

In recent years, the U.S. has been among the nations in the second tier behind China, Japan and Russia, including in Tokyo, where the Americans were fifth.

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Ironman Kona World Championships return for first time in three years, live on Peacock

Ironman Kona World Championship
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The Ironman Kona World Championships return after a three-year hiatus with a new format, live on Peacock on Thursday and Saturday at 12 p.m. ET.

The Ironman, held annually in Hawaii since 1978, and in Kailua-Kona since 1981, was not held in 2020 or 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The world championships made a one-time-only stop in St. George, Utah, on May 7 to make up for the 2021 cancellation. The winners were Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt, the Tokyo Olympic triathlon champion, and Swiss Daniela Ryf, who bagged her fifth Ironman world title.

Both are entered in Kailua-Kona, where the races are now split between two days — Thursday for the women and Saturday for the men.

An Ironman includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a marathon — totaling 140.6 miles of racing. It takes top triathletes eight hours to complete. Very arguably, it crowns the world’s fittest man and woman.

WATCH LIVE: Ironman Kona, Thursday, 12 p.m. ET — STREAM LINK

Ryf, 35 and a 2008 and 2012 Olympian, can tie retired countrywoman Natascha Badmann for second place on the women’s list at six Ironman world titles. Only Zimbabwean-turned-American Paula Newby-Fraser has more with eight.

The field also includes German Anne Haug, the 2019 Kona champ and only woman other than Ryf to win since 2015. Brit Lucy Charles-Barclay, the Kona runner-up in 2017, 2018 and 2019, returns after missing the St. George event due to a stress fracture in her hip.

Blummenfelt, 28 and in his Kona debut, will try to become the youngest male champion in Kona since German Normann Stadler in 2005. His top challengers include countryman Gustav Iden, the two-time reigning Half Ironman world champion, and German Patrick Lange, the 2017 and 2018 Ironman Kona winner.

Also racing Saturday is Dallas Clark, a retired All-Pro NFL tight end with the Indianapolis Colts, and Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy 500 champion who completed the 2011 Kona Ironman in 12 hours, 52 minutes, 40 seconds.

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