Ordinarily she would be at the starting line in Hopkinton on Patriots Day as defending champion, bidding to become the first woman to win three consecutive Boston Marathons since Fatuma Roba in 1999. Kenya’s Rita Jeptoo still is listed on the roll of champions and still has the $325,000 that she earned by winning the past two races, including the $25,000 bonus for last year’s course record.
“She won the races, she tested clean before and after the races,” says Boston Athletic Association executive director Tom Grilk. “She was found to have violated the doping rules later.”
The 34-year-old Jeptoo may have been banned for two years by the Kenyan federation for testing positive for blood-boosting erythropoietin last September, but pending the outcome of her appealed case before the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport she’ll keep not only her two Boston crowns but also the first of her two Chicago victories, as well as most of the prize money. But the $500,000 bonus that Jeptoo earned as last year’s World Marathon Majors champion has been held up.
Since the CAS decision likely won’t be handed down until later this year, Jeptoo’s two triumphs here still stand unless there’s conclusive evidence that she was using performance-enhancing drugs before the event, as she was before last autumn’s Chicago race. “Until we have a final result we don’t know what the period of time that the suspension will cover,” says Grilk.
Noah Busienei, Jeptoo’s estranged husband, claimed that she began doping in 2011 upon returning from a two-year sabbatical after giving birth. In a letter from his attorney to Jeptoo, Busienei said that unless he was paid a financial settlement, that he was “willing to take the necessary step by revealing/disclosing/unleashing” her doping dossier to Athletics Kenya and the World Anti-Doping Agency.
If there’s hard evidence that Jeptoo was doping four years ago even without testing positive, her results since then could be wiped out. “We follow the rules of the governing bodies that make the decisions,” says Grilk. “Generally our policy has been to honor their rulings.”
Her domestic federation didn’t take Busienei’s claim into account in January when it hit Jeptoo with a suspension retroactive to last October that will keep her out of next year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. But until her case is settled she’s persona non grata at all of the Abbott World Marathon Majors events and a pariah among her peers.
“If someone is cheating, it is no good,” says Ethiopia’s Buzunesh Deba, who finished second to Jeptoo last year at Boston when the Kenyan smashed countrywoman Margaret Okayo’s 2002 course record by nearly two minutes in a time of 2 hours, 18 minutes, 57 seconds.
Since Jeptoo tested negative her course record, whose checkpoint splits are listed in this year’s media guide, is considered valid. But many of her rivals doubt its legitimacy. “More information needs to come to light,” says Shalane Flanagan, who finished seventh last year in the fastest time (2:22:02) ever run by an American woman here. “It may be unfair for me to say that just because she didn’t test positive at Boston last year. However, there’s some incriminating evidence that she supposedly has been doping for a while. If that is true, I would say that Deba is the course record-holder.”
While several dozen Kenyan marathoners have been caught doping during the past couple of years, Jeptoo is by far the most prominent, and the first Boston champion in the race’s 119 years (other than 1980 interloper Rosie Ruiz) whose victory has been questioned. Under the Abbott World Marathon Majors rules, any doped runner will be permanently banned from their races.
Since Jeptoo’s case is unresolved she could have been invited back to defend her crown, but the BAA and sponsor John Hancock elected to take the prudent road, as they likely will in the future with runners who’ve tested positive but have not yet been suspended. “If there’s an unfavorable test result it’s pretty good evidence that you should be at the very least careful,” says Grilk. “You want the athletes who are clean to know that they are competing on a level playing field.”John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.