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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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Caster Semenya allowed to race 800m at Pre Classic

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Caster Semenya has been switched from the 3000m to the 800m at next week’s Pre Classic, marking her first scheduled 800m since a Swiss Supreme Court ruling allowed her to race her Olympic gold-medal distance while she appeals a new IAAF testosterone rule.

“Caster’s representation requested that she be moved from the 3,000 meters (where she was originally entered) to the 800 meters, and we are happy to comply,” Prefontaine Classic meet director Tom Jordan said in a statement, confirming a Reuters report.

NBC Sports airs live Pre Classic coverage on June 30 from 4-6 p.m. ET.

Semenya, the two-time Olympic 800m champion, was originally entered in the 3000m because the rule bars her from races between 400m and the mile unless she takes testosterone-suppressing measures, under which she would be allowed to return to those distances late this year. Semenya refuses to take those measures.

A Swiss Supreme Court ruling two weeks ago lifted the restriction for Semenya — but not other athletes — while her appeal is pending. The IAAF has until Monday to respond to the court before a ruling could be made. A resolution could still be months away, with Semenya possibly able to race until that day comes.

Semenya has won 30 straight 800m races dating to 2015, including the Rio Olympics and 2017 World Championships. All three Rio Olympic 800m medalists have said they are affected by the new rule capping testosterone in women’s races between the 400m and mile.

That meant none raced at Diamond League stops in Stockholm and Rabat, Morocco, earlier this month. Last Sunday’s Rabat meet offered Semenya a late invite, more than a week after her restriction was lifted, but Semenya said it was too late for her to travel in time to race.

American record holder Ajeé Wilson won the Stockholm 800m without any of the Olympic medalists in the field.

MORE: Caster Semenya to IAAF: Focus on dopers, not us

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Geraint Thomas crashes out of Tour de France prep race

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BASEL, Switzerland (AP) — Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas crashed in a cycling race, days after teammate Chris Froome was involved in a season-ending accident in France.

Team INEOS said Thomas should be fine to start the Tour de France on July 6 despite having to drop out of the fourth stage of the nine-day Tour de Suisse race in Switzerland.

“Clearly it’s frustrating and a small setback for my Tour de France preparations, but there’s still plenty of time before we start in Brussels in a few weeks’ time,” Thomas said, according to the team.

The team says on Twitter that Thomas “was alert and speaking to the team after the crash and will be taken to hospital for checks.”

Thomas had a ripped jersey and cuts on his back and shoulder after hitting the road with about 18 miles left in the stage. He was in eighth place, 28 seconds behind race leader Peter Sagan.

Thomas won the 2018 Tour after Froome won four times between 2013 and 2017.

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