Kenya doping loophole closer to being closed after another star fails test

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Kenya’s first WADA-approved drug-testing laboratory will be operational early next month, anti-doping authorities said Monday as they aim to close a loophole that some fear had allowed athletes from the East African distance-running powerhouse to beat controls for years.

The lab in the capital, Nairobi, will focus on blood analyses, although it will also be able to carry out other doping tests, the Athletics Integrity Unit said.

It is the first World Anti-Doping Agency-approved facility in East Africa, and the only one in Africa after South Africa’s lab had its accreditation revoked last year.

The AIU is the independent unit set up in 2017 to prosecute doping cases in international track and field. It funded the Kenyan lab with help from athletics governing body, the IAAF.

Previously, blood samples taken from Kenya’s world-beating distance runners had to be flown to South Africa or, more recently, Europe to be tested at an approved lab within 36 hours, a challenging race-against-time that led to the regular bending of anti-doping rules, as revealed by The Associated Press in 2016.

Blood doping is especially relevant in distance running, where Kenya has been a powerhouse for decades.

The new lab should stop athletes who train in remote regions in the high-altitude west of the country from being given prior warning of out-of-competition tests by sample collectors.

Out-of-competition checks are meant to be sprung on athletes by surprise.

But the time required to reach athletes and get samples to Nairobi and out of the country to an approved testing lab within the 36-hour limit had meant it became easier for officials to give a group notice a day before to gather at a specific place to be tested together.

Experts say, though, that drug cheats could use the advance notice to dilute their blood — either by drinking copious amounts of fluid or by infusing saline — and beat the test.

Brett Clothier, head of the AIU, alluded to that on Monday.

“From now on, the analyses of blood samples will be performed locally,” he said. “This will give us more efficiency, more responsiveness and less predictability.”

The AIU’s announcement came a day after it confirmed 2017 World 800m bronze medalist Kipyegon Bett of Kenya had failed a doping test.

Bett tested positive for the blood-booster EPO and the 800m runner, world junior champion in 2016, faces a four-year ban.

The 20-year-old athlete had already been suspended for evading a doping test. He is the fourth Kenyan to face doping charges in 2018.

The 2008 Olympic 1500m champion and three-time world champion Asbel Kiprop has been charged with using EPO, while women’s Olympic marathon winner Jemima Sumgong was banned for four years for EPO in November.

They are some of the latest cases that rebut Kenyan claims its top athletes are clean, and doping is confined to lesser-known runners.

The AIU said it collected more than 3,500 blood samples to test in 2017. It expects the new lab to handle between 800 and 1,000 a year from the East African region, including Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania and Eritrea.

The lab belongs to the Lancet healthcare group. It’s not a fully accredited WADA lab, but the world anti-doping organization allows a facility to handle tests for cost and geographic reasons as long as it meets criteria.

Kenya’s reputation has been seriously damaged by the upsurge in doping cases in recent years, which has been accompanied by multiple incidents of rule-breaking and corruption.

Kiprop revealed in May he received prior warning of his urine test. He also admitted to giving the doping control officer money for tipping him off.

Kiprop also faces a four-year ban. He was elevated to the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics after Rashid Ramzi was stripped for doping.

Other Kenyans currently charged with doping include two-time Olympian Lucy Wangui (morphine) and 2017 Athens Marathon winner Samuel Kalalei (EPO).

Ruth Jebet, the Kenya-born Olympic 3000m steeplechase champion and world-record holder, was also suspended this year and charged with using EPO.

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MORE: U.S. distance-running legend sets marathon debut

Freestyle skiers in World Cup action on NBC Sports, Peacock

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Olympic gold medalists David Wise and Alex Hall headline World Cup freestyle skiing and snowboarding stops in the U.S. this weekend, airing on NBC Sports and Peacock.

Wise, who last Sunday won his fifth X Games Aspen ski halfpipe title, led the qualifiers into the final at the Mammoth Mountain Grand Prix in California.

He’s joined in the 10-man final by U.S. Olympic teammates Aaron Blunck and Birk Irving. The women’s ski halfpipe final includes the top three from last week’s X Games — Brit Zoe Atkin, Canadian Rachael Karker and American Svea Irving. Olympic champion Eileen Gu of China is out after suffering a knee injury in an X Games training crash.

The ski slopestyle finals include the reigning men’s and women’s Olympic gold medalists — Hall, plus Mathilde Gremaud of Switzerland.

The marquee snowboarders in Mammoth finals are Olympic big air silver medalist Julia Marino (slopestyle) and X Games silver medalist Maddie Mastro (halfpipe). Two-time Olympic champion Chloe Kim is taking the season off, and another double Olympic champion, Jamie Anderson, is pregnant.

Aerials and moguls skiers are competing in their lone U.S. World Cup stop in Park City, Utah.

The moguls fields including Olympic gold medalists Walter Wallberg of Sweden, Mikael Kingsbury of the U.S., Perrine Laffont of France and Jakara Anthony of Australia. Olympic silver medalist Jaelin Kauf is the standout American.

The aerials include every member of the U.S. team that took gold at last year’s Olympics — Ashley Caldwell, Chris Lillis and Justin Schoenefeld.

Freestyle Skiing and Snowboarding World Cup Broadcast Schedule

Day Event Time (ET) Platform
Saturday Moguls 11 a.m. CNBC, Peacock
Ski Halfpipe 3 p.m. NBC, Peacock
Sunday Ski Slopestyle 12 p.m. CNBC, Peacock
Sun., Feb. 12 Aerials, Dual Moguls 2 p.m. NBC, Peacock
Snowboard Halfpipe 2 p.m. CNBC, Peacock

All NBC and CNBC coverage also streams on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app for subscribers.

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Kelly Slater is trying to qualify for the Olympics at age 51

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On Dec. 19, 2019, Kelly Slater missed qualifying for surfing’s Olympic debut in Tokyo by one spot. It came down to the 11th and final event of the season-long World Surf League Championship Tour in a tight battle with his Hawaiian neighbor John John Florence.

At age 47, it appeared that surfing’s Olympic inclusion came just a bit too late for the greatest surfer in history to take part.

Slater continued to enter the sport’s other premier contests.

He opened the 2021 season with a third-place finish at surfing’s crown jewel, the Pipeline Masters on the North Shore of Oahu. But Slater then missed half the season, citing injuries to both ankles and his right hip. It was a reminder that every athlete succumbs to age — even if few have successfully fended it off longer than Slater.

Yet there Slater was last Feb. 5, being carried out of the water, raising his arms in triumph after winning his eighth Pipeline Masters title, six days shy of his 50th birthday and 30 years after his first victory. It was his first title on tour in nearly six years.

That win — which Slater called the best of his record 56 on the Championship Tour — also meant something more. Maybe, just maybe, he has enough left in the tank to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Slater made just one more quarterfinal in his remaining seven events last season. Still, he finished the year ranked 15th in the world and, more importantly for Olympic prospects, third among Americans.

Everybody starts from zero points again as this season opened Wednesday with the first rounds of the Pipeline Masters. The top two Americans per gender in the season-ending standings in September are likely to qualify for the Paris Games.

The U.S. could get a third men’s Olympic spot — which wasn’t available four years ago — if it wins next year’s World Surfing Games team competition (Brazil may be favored). It’s unclear what will determine which surfer fills that potential spot.

If he could only have one, Slater would take a 2024 Olympic spot over another win at Pipeline.

He is trying to become the oldest U.S. Summer Olympic rookie competitor in a sport other than equestrian, sailing, shooting or art competitions(!) in the last 100 years, supplanting Martina Navratilova (who was 47 in 2004), according to Olympedia.org.

“This will be my one chance [at the Olympics],” Slater said Saturday while promoting the upcoming season of “Make or Break” that premieres Feb. 17 on Apple TV+. “The next [Olympics] I’ll be 55 years old. I’m not going to be on tour by then. I did say that at 40, though, when I was talking about being 50.”

Slater, speaking on Wednesday’s opening day Pipeline broadcast, said he messaged Tom Brady after the NFL star announced his retirement (for a second time) earlier in the day.

“I don’t think there would be a player in the league right now that wouldn’t say that Brady can still win a Super Bowl right now, so it’s a hard carrot to dangle in front of yourself and not go for it,” Slater said. “I can relate to that after so long, but I love to surf, and this is the outlet for it, still. I feel that candle kind of burning out for me. That’s been for a while, but I think I’m just going to surf until it’s totally done, and I don’t really care at all about surfing a heat and want to be somewhere else.”

Slater is pumped for the 2024 Olympic venue: Teahupo’o,  a daunting reef break nicknamed “The End of the Road.” It is in Tahiti, an island in French Polynesia that is about 9,800 miles from Paris. It will break the record for the farthest Olympic medal competition to be held outside the host city.

Slater won there five times on the Championship Tour, the last in 2016.

“It’s one of the truly great challenging waves in the world,” he said. “If I can get on that team, I feel like I have a good shot at potentially winning a medal or gold medal. If that were the case, I will drop the mic and quit right then, but, you know, I got a lot of work to do between now and then.”

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