There is no denying that Asbel Kiprop has magic on his feet. Long before he sprinted to the finish line and won the junior race gold medal at the 2007 IAAF world cross country championship, Kiprop had already made a name in Simat Village, Uasin Gishu County where he was born and raised.
He was known as the boy who would take off at sonic speed and leave his age mates dazed.
From then, he went on a winning spree, his quick feet placing him on front pages of local and international press. They called him a phenomenon; a force to watch.
“I was born running. When people around me were walking, I wanted to run. Athletics is my life,” says Kiprop in his first candid media interview since he got a four-year ban from competitive athletics for failing a doping test.
The only thing that he cannot run away from are the troubles that have buffeted his career.
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Ever since his talent was illuminated, accompanied by medals and money, negative press followed him. His erratic ways and oodles of sexual titillation that he sometimes recorded on video painted the picture of a village boy struggling to control sudden fame.
“I made some mistakes in life, and I have always taken the consequences,” he says.
When he was accused of snatching his best friend’s wife and putting up a semi-nude show that publicly displayed their adultery, Kiprop now says they were both consenting adults and he was within his rights to get intimate with the woman.
“I did not force her to do anything. Moreover, my friend and I are cool with each other and he was among the first people to call me in my recent troubles,” he says. Now in the middle of a doping scandal, Kiprop maintains that accusations of his blood having samples of erythropoietin (commonly known as EPO), a drug used to boost performance in endurance training, are false.
“I did not dope. If I knew I had drugs in my system, I would not have allowed them to test me,” he says.
The text came on Easter Sunday while he was in church. When he got a message from one of his friends expressing sympathy over the disaster that had befallen him, he was confused.
“I did not know what he was talking about. He said media was reporting that I had been banned for doping. I developed a running stomach. I was shaking…speechless...My heart felt like someone had plucked it,” he says, his voice coming out in stuttered sentences.
He says what happened after the news pushed him to the edge of depression. His friends, the ones he had entertained during his life in active athletics that was defined by staggering hedonism, fled.
“People I thought knew me were not standing with me. I got very bitter. I wanted someone who would understand my pain; of how I had trained so hard and now I am banned. Nobody cared. They did not believe me,” he says. Kiprop says for many nights, he lay sleepless in bed feeling like his world was crumbling.
His favourite beer that once gave him solace no longer filled the hole inside him. In a moment of desperation, he took to social media and wrote an update that created an uproar and prompted Inspector General of Police Hillary Mutyambai to react.
Kiprop, who works as a chief inspector at the presidential escort unit, threatened to use his gun to earn justice.
“I was desperate. It is too much. I wanted attention. I hate what I am feeling. When people tell me not to post how I am feeling on social media, I do not know how to stop,” he says.
His critics, however, trace his downfall to when he was still training under athletics champion Kipchoge Keino. That even though the camp had rules against bringing in women, Kiprop would saunter in with young women who would instinctively drop their clothes when he flashed his money. They believe the old Kipchoge could have pronounced a curse on him.
Kiprop laughs at the accusations. In fluent English that he says he learnt from reading novels and watching movies after dropping out of school, he says: “What an interesting joke! I do not believe in curses.”
When he ran over a pedestrian at Kapseret, it was reported that he was speeding to pick up one of his side dishes. He does not want to revisit the event.
“An accident brings bad memories and nobody wishes it to happen to anyone. Let us not talk about that,” he says.
His ban by the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) Disciplinary Tribunal has darkened his career that peaked when he was barely 20. At 19 years old, he clinched the 1500m title and became the youngest runner to win the race since 1912.
In a strange ironical twist, he won silver in the Olympic of 2008 and was bumped to gold when the winner, Rashid Ramzi of Bahrain, was disqualified due to doping.
“I know the consequences of doping. I have seen what happens to athletes when they dope. I would not dare,” he says.
Benjamin Limo, the 2005 world champion in the 5,000 metres and a former Kenyan representative to the IAAF, says Kiprop’s case is fishy, and there is a possibility of malice. He says it would be difficult to pinpoint who would be after Kiprop or if drugs were sneaked into him without his knowledge.
“There have been cases of top athletes getting their drinks laced with drugs. For Kiprop, there is a possibility, but what has been decided by the tribunal remains,” he says.
Kiprop had been suspended in May last year by IAAF’s Athletes Integrity Unit (AIU) after testing positive for EPO but was hoping things would turn around and he would be found innocent.
“I have been tested more than 127 times since 2009 and it is only the November 2017 test that turned positive. I strongly believe that there was either a mix-up in the samples or a scientific error during the testing,” he says.
According to Kiprop, the AIU officials who came to his Iten house took urine samples from him three times on November 22, 27 and 29, 2017, and out of the three samples taken, the November 27 sample tested positive of EPO.
He said he has and will continue demanding answers from AIU on how he samples were handled.
“Some people have advised me not to spend money defending myself because I am fighting a system that is determined to bring my career down, but I will proceed with the appeal of the April 20 ruling because if I can’t stand for my rights, nobody will,” said Kiprop.
He hopes soon, he will get back to athletics and the ban will be lifted.
Exclusive Video: Asbel Kiprop opens up about doping scandal, girlfriend drama: