The Kenyans Joyce Zakary and Koki Manunga have become the first athletes to fail drugs tests at a world championships which is already taking place under a cloud of doping allegations in the sport.
The International Association of Athletics Federations has confirmed that the pair have been provisionally suspended after being tested on 20 and 21 August before the championships began. Amid continuing questions about anti-doping efforts in Kenya, who currently lead the world championships medal table after four days of competition, the positive tests will further raise concerns.
The 29-year-old Zakary ran a new national record in the 400m heats but then pulled out of the semi-finals. After running 50.71sec in the heats on Sunday, she said: “I didn’t know I could run like this. I like the track, it’s too fast.”
Asked whether Kenya could aim for “world domination” in sprints following decades of huge success in middle and long distance running she said: “I think so. We are happy.”
The 400m hurdler Manunga won silver in the African championships but finished sixth in her heat and was well below her best. Reports in Kenya have suggested both tested positive for a masking agent for an unknown substance.
“The IAAF rules dictate that the IAAF is only able to make a public disclosure once this provisional suspension is in place,” said a spokesman for the body. “These targeted tests were conducted by the IAAF at the athlete hotels during the pre-competition phase. The IAAF will not discuss the details of the cases as they progress through the results management process.”
Kenyan athletes are believed to have been target tested up to four times each so far. Athletics Kenya’s chief executive, Isaac Mwangi, told Sportsnewsarena.com: “Any matter touching on doping is a matter of confidentiality until proven and the right procedure is followed. I will meet with the team management and the IAAF and see if I have any more information besides this.” But he refused to confirm or deny the positive tests to the Kenyan website.
The German broadcaster ARD this week claimed that some Kenyan officials were warned before the unannounced doping tests and alleged a banned runner accused athletics officials of demanding money to hide positive tests.
ARD has led the way into doping investigations that have led to widespread allegations against the Russian federation and also claimed that a third of endurance medals over a decade were won by athletes with suspicious blood values.
The IAAF, which insists it is doing all it can to lead the fight against doping, has been pushing for a testing facility in Kenya that would meet World Anti-Doping Agency standards. In the meantime, anti-doping officials from Norway and China are testing samples and helping with the creation of the new body.
Kenyan former athletes have raised concerns over lingering allegations of cheating among their successors. In 2013, the 3,000m steeplechase world champion Moses Kiptanui alleged that there was widespread doping among Kenyan athletes.
“The problem is that the number of athletes is huge now,” Kiptanui told France’s L’Équipe Magazine in an article published last week. “Now, only the very best of them have the chance to go abroad to run and thus make money. It’s why they are ready to do anything to make their mark, in particular doping.”
Moni Wekesa, a Kenyan professor who was the head of an independent task force in the country that recently investigated the severity of the problem, agreed that banned substances were far too easy to procure. “In this country, there is more EPO being consumed by athletes than by the ill,” he told L’Équipe.
Around 40 Kenyan athletes have been banned in the past two years, including the 2013 and 2014 Boston and Chicago marathon winner Rita Jeptoo, but Wilson Kipsang believes “maybe 99%” of the country’s athletes can be trusted.
“There are great measures under way now in Kenya to protect the sport,” Kipsang said, speaking earlier this year. “We have seen that many athletes don’t understand what is doping and so we are trying to create awareness and find out how they fall prey in this situation. The ban has been increased from two years to four years, which will also act as a deterrent.”
Last November, allegations of widespread institutional doping were levelled at the Russian athletics federation amid wider claims of cover up and corruption. An independent IAAF commission headed by Michael Beloff is due to issue a report later this year, while a Wada review led by Dick Pound is examining the wider issues.
Sebastian Coe, the incoming new president of the IAAF, has promised to introduce an independent testing unit but the organisation remains under extreme pressure to prove that it is doing enough to tackle the problem.
This article was written by Owen Gibson in Beijing, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 26th August 2015 12.22 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010