Rita Jeptoo, whose positive drug test last autumn rocked the marathon world, will appear Thursday before an Athletics Kenya commission that essentially could end her career and change the results of the last two Boston and Chicago Marathons.
The 33-year-old Jeptoo, the biggest name connected to what has become an expanding doping controversy involving the world’s most dominant road running country, is facing at least a two-year ban from the sport and possible forfeiture of her titles and more than $1 million in prize and bonus money after an out-of-competition sample taken last September in her homeland showed evidence of blood-boosting EPO.
Jeptoo has been denied the $500,000 bonus that she stood to collect for winning the 2013-14 World Marathon Majors title, pending the resolution of her case. If she is banned, she would be stripped of the Chicago title that she retained in October. But if there’s evidence that her drug use goes back to 2011, as her estranged husband Noah Busienei has claimed, Jeptoo also could lose her previous Chicago victory as well as her Boston triumphs from 2013 and 2014.
Jeptoo did not test positive for performance-enhancing drugs after either of her victories here, and the Boston Athletic Association has said that it will wait until her case and any appeals are concluded before taking steps to nullify her victories and reclaim her prize money.
“We would have to engage in an adjudicative process of our own, and I don’t want to predict what that might be,” BAA executive director Thomas Grilk said Wednesday. “But in general we are four-square against doping.”
Should Jeptoo be suspended — and it could be for four years, if the new World Anti-Doping Agency rules for a first offense apply — she likely would have to return last year’s Boston’s payoff of $150,000 plus the $25,000 bonus for her course record, as well as her 2013 winnings of $150,000.
The biggest beneficiaries of a Jeptoo ban would be her fellow Kenyans and her Ethiopian rivals.
Ethiopia’s Meseret Hailu and Buzunesh Deba, who finished second in the last two Boston races, would inherit Jeptoo’s crowns, and Mare Dibaba would be next in line for her 2014 Chicago title. Jeptoo’s countrywoman Jemima Jelagat Sumgong would be awarded her 2013 Chicago victory while Edna Kiplagat would be awarded the $500,000 WMM prize.
Jeptoo’s hearing before her federation’s medical and doping commission comes at a time when Kenyan marathoning is undergoing a firestorm of criticism both at home and abroad.
“The reputation of our sportsmen and women has been tainted beyond any imagination,” declared Kipchoge Keino, the two-time Olympic gold medalist who is president of the country’s Olympic committee and who has called for doping to be made a criminal offense.
Athletics Kenya, whose president, Isaiah Kiplagat, has called the country’s doping problem “just as bad as AIDS,” has moved to toughen penalties against cheaters, including lifetime bans. Agents, managers, and coaches will be required to register with the federation and provide names of their runners as well as their testing results. And athletes would have to carry biological passports that track their doping tests and monitor the variables that indicate the effects of drug use.
But the most significant change will be the overdue creation of an accredited drug-testing lab, possibly in Nairobi, that would allow for timely processing of samples that customarily have had to be transported to foreign facilities.
The six major marathons — Boston, New York, Chicago, London, Berlin, and Tokyo — agreed last year and affirmed last weekend that they would help the international track and field federation underwrite the cost of the new lab, which would be the first of its kind in East Africa, which provides the majority of the world’s elite distance runners.
John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.