Where Athletes are Not Strictly Tested for Drugs, Cheating is to be Expected: Antidoping System Failure in Kenya

Runners who dope in order to win marathons rob honest athletes of their chance to enjoy the winner's podium.
Runners who dope in order to win marathons rob honest athletes of their chance to enjoy the winner’s podium.

When there is no referee, cheating is more likely to occur. And in the absence of consistent, stringent testing, with hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money and endorsements at stake, shortcuts and unsportsmanlike conduct becomes almost a certainty.

According to an article in the New York Times, American marathoner and 1972 Olympic gold medalist Frank Shorter has been coming down hard on athletes who dope for years.  Not coincidentally, Shorter also happens to be a former chairman of the United States Anti-Doping Agency.

Recently Rita Jeptoo, a 3-time winner of the Boston Marathon and 2-time winner of the Chicago Marathon who hails from Kenya, failed an initial drug screening for the endurance-boosting substance EPO.

If you listen to Shorter, this was to be expected since Kenya, which like many African countries has dominated the marathon scene for years, does not have in place a solid system for anti-doping.

Jeptoo’s failed test casts a shadow on all other Kenyan runners.  Do Kenya’s lax anti-doping policies permit all of them to dope?  Have they been doping all along?  Is that why they’re so dominant?

Shorter believes all runners should be regularly tested by an international, impartial agency who does not have a dog in the fight, instead of by an under-funded, laxly controlled, and most likely biased organization from the athlete’s own country.

Virginia athletes’ lawyer Doug Landau is all for Shorter’s idea for drug testing.  Landau has competed in regional, national and international races where prize winners have been tested. Everyone should play by the same rules.

“Where is good sportsmanship?” wonders Landau.  “There are no excuses for the long list of Kenyan athletes who broke the rules. But they have already pocketed the money, the fame, the appearance fees.  Those athletes who went by the rules will never be able to turn back the clock and get their own day in the sun.  When cheater Rosie Ruiz stole the Boston Marathon win from Jacqueline Gareau in 1980, the ceremony cobbled together a week later by the Boston Athletics Association was not the same as when all the spectators and athletes are there to bask in the champion’s glory. All these cheaters bring shame to the Kenyan Athletic Association.”

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