Drug busts do not come any bigger than this. The shocking news that Rio Olympic Games women marathon winner, Jemimah Jelagat Sumgong tested positive for banned blood booster, EPO struck like a dagger through the heart of Kenya’s athletics.
Coming barely a fortnight before she was to defend her London Marathon title on April 23, a grim picture is emerging of the intrigues that led to the devastating news being broken by the London office of the reputed Reuters agency on Thursday night.
The question now is, how will Kenya be viewed in the eyes of the world considering the country did extremely well at last year’s Olympics Games?
As if that is not enough, Sumgong was the first Kenyan female marathoner to win an Olympics gold when she kicked off Kenya’s medal harvest at Rio 2016.
It must be remembered that before the Olympic Games, there were calls for the country to be banned from the Games due to alleged doping and the news of Sumgong testing positive for EPO will surely bring back those calls ahead of the World Championships in August and the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Once her Sample B is confirmed, it could mean dire consequences for Kenya and taking part in 2020 Olympics might remain a pipe dream.
Calls to have Kenya banned have been characterised by intrigues, but at the end of the day, Sumgong case will be devastating for the country that is now caught between a rock and a hard place.
Rosa Associati, which handles Sumgong and also managed Rita Jeptoo, who is serving a four-year ban, will also come under sharp focus and more questions will be directed at them after the latest news.
MORE MIGHT TEST POSITIVE
The ramifications of a possible Sumgong ban will have greater consequences than those of convicted cheat and three-time Boston winner, Jeptoo.
AK had stated a target of July, a month before the IAAF World Championships in London, to convince the world governing body to remove the country from the red zone but should rumours that five other top Kenyan athletes have failed drug tests prove to be true, then the push to impose a ban on international competitions will only escalate.
In February, AK partnered with the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya (ADAK) and the Kenya Doctors Network to ensure all runners are tested before leaving the country for competition besides rolling out a robust sensitisation programme to inform athletes on doping.
“Athletes are further notified that in addition to sanctions which may be imposed by the IAAF for anyone found guilty of violating anti-doping regulations, they will face the full force of the law within the existing framework of the laws of Kenya,” the federation emphasised in their statement following the Sumgong report.
However, IAAF President Lord Sebastian Coe, while addressing a group of athletes at the Kampala 2017 World Cross recently, said heavy sanctions against the vice need to be enforced without the added involvement of the State.
While efforts have been made in the past year to tighten doping control with the formation and legalisation of ADAK and changes in AK management, the possibility of the first reigning Olympics champion being banned for substance abuse within that period could render the entire process stillborn.
Sumgong’s adverse results were based on tests conducted on her A-sample in an out-of-competition test in her native Kapsabet, but the fact that the news was broken even before the athlete had a chance to submit her reply to the initial results might have others thinking there is a conspiracy against Kenya, but that can only be proven once the results of the B-Sample are out.
“There is no problem. I have the papers from a medical examination to explain myself,” Sumgong told Chamgei FM yesterday, declining to give any further statement.
“We are in shock and wondering how the news was broken even before we had a chance to present our defence as is required. It is like the case of police arresting and planting an illegal substance on someone. It becomes difficult to prove innocence,” her husband and coach, Noah Talam Sumgong remarked.
Talam who is the head coach of the Stanley Biwott and Rosa Associati Training Camp in Kaptagat is facing a nightmare as the news comes weeks after Sumgong’s training partner, Sarah Chepchirchir ran 2:19:47 to break the Japanese all comers record at the Tokyo Marathon. Visiline Jepkesho who will defend her Paris Marathon women’s title tomorrow and former world junior star, Purity Cherotich Rionoripo (2:24 PB) who will also run in the French capital are members of the same camp.
According to the established result management protocol in anti-doping, the athlete is first informed of any positive test through the national federation, in this case, Athletics Kenya (AK) and given time to respond.
The affected athlete can either call for the test of the B-sample, like in 2012 when Sumgong tested positive for the banned substance prednisolone in her post-race test at the Boston Marathon.
At the time, AK handed her a two-year ban but the IAAF cleared her on appeal in September 2012 due to the fact that the local injection that Sumgong had received was permitted under the governing body’s rules.
But on this occasion, the announcement of the positive result that stemmed from an IAAF sanctioned test was made public even before the due process was complete, plunging Kenyan athletics into its biggest crisis yet.
“We are struggling to understand why the IAAF decided to act this way in Sumgong’s case. Such announcements are made on their official website once we have been informed as a federation, not through news sources,” AK President, Lt. Gen (Rtd) Jackson Tuwei said.
“Whether the athlete concerned is guilty or not, the fact that the news is out there compromises any defence she will put up,” the federation chief, who convened an urgent meeting with his top officials yesterday to discuss the matter, added.
“It’s a huge blow,” he said in what sounds like a merited understatement yet, if it is proven an Olympic champion is a drug cheat, there will be a huge dent in the credibility of Kenyan athletes.
“The information contained in the notification and also carried in the press is extremely shocking and disappointing.”