Top Kenyan athletes hard at work in high-altitude training in the Rift Valley town of Iten remain hopeful that Thursday’s publication of a second WADA report into corruption and doping in track and field will not disrupt their preparations for the Rio Olympics.
Athletes have hit the ground running ahead of the outdoor season, oblivious of the consequences of the report which could reveal the state of doping in the east African nation. But they are optimistic Kenya will not go the Russian way and potentially miss out on competing in August’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
“I don’t think Kenya will be banned,” said legendary athletics coach Colm O’Connell in Iten. “I don’t think, and of course I am hoping, doping is not systematic in Kenya. There is no evidence that I can say the (athletics) federation or the government or anybody have been systematically involved in promoting it.
“The case in Kenya seems to be officials here and there, either on their own or with assistance from a coach, an agent or a doctor, decided to take drugs,” said the Irish-born tactician, who has coached more than 20 Kenyan Olympic champions including 800 metre star David Rudisha.
O’Connell added: “I am hoping the report will give us a way forward for our athletes, and even beyond Rio. This is going to take much longer than Rio for Kenya to regain its reputation and credibility of its performances.
“It’s not going to go away soon, but I am hoping the report will give very specific clarifications of what the IAAF and the sporting world expect of Kenya.” Rudisha insisted that the athletes had been totally in the dark about doping allegations, but warned it would be unfortunate if most of the Kenyan runners who were innocent were made to suffer for those who were found guilty of doping offences.
“As sports people we feel really bad. Whenever we hear about these things (doping) happening in Kenya, it is really disappointing since Kenya is known for having great athletes who have been winning titles for many years by running clean.
Former world 3,000m steeplechase world record holder and three-time world champion Moses Kiptanui said he was happy to know the extent of how much doping had tainted Kenyan athletics, should it be revealed in the WADA independent commission report.
“It has taken too long for Kenya to accept that doping was a problem. When I raised the issue a few years ago, people thought I was crazy,” said Kiptanui. “Now that everything has been revealed I am a happy man. Not because people have been suspended or have been banned for life, but because the truth has finally come out.”
But Kiptanui, who been critical about how Athletics Kenya (AK) handled the drug issue, believes Kenya will not be banned from the Rio Olympics. “I think it is going to be difficult to ban Kenya from the Olympics because the scenario we have here is different from Russia,” said Kiptanui.
He warned that athletes found guilty of doping should be given a life ban and officials who were involved in the cover-up of doping allegations jailed. “More than 40 Kenyan athletes have been suspended in the last two years. We still have good athletes who are winning races and they are clean and we need to protect them. If we don’t do anything about this doping issue, the sport will go to the dogs.
“They need to punish people, even banning them for life. I would agree to that a hundred percent,” Kiptanui said. Two-time world marathon champion and Olympic silver medallist Abel Kirui warned that negative repercussions from the WADA report could hit hard the pockets of thousands of athletes who relied on the sport for their livelihood.
“Kenyan athletes may not be accepted to compete in races overseas since the race organisers would tend to think we are not clean. This is going to give us a bad reputation,” said Kirui. Kenya has been under great scrutiny from anti-doping officials and faces heavy criticism that it was not doing enough to tackle the problem.
In December, three top Athletics Kenya (AK) officials including the president Isaiah Kiplagat, deputy president David Okeyo and former treasurer Joseph Kinyua were suspended by the IAAF Ethics Commission for alleged corruption and cover-up of doping issues.