A new report says some Kenyan athletes are using banned drugs to win sporting events. This year, Kenyan runners won marathons in the American cities of Boston and Chicago. After the races, scientists tested blood samples taken from the winners. The samples showed the presence of an illegal substance. Officials call such substances “performance-enhancing drugs,” or PEDs. Researchers say PEDs can help athletes perform at a higher level. Use of the drugs is called “doping.”
The report was the work of an anti-doping group. The group says it found that doping was becoming a serious issue in Kenya. Now, some Kenyan athletes are worried about the report and news stories about the test results. They say the incident could damage the image of Kenyans as the fastest long-distance runners in the world.
In October, Kenya’s Rita Jeptoo won the Chicago Marathon for a second time. She had also won the Boston Marathon three times. And a Kenyan man and woman finished first in the male and female events at the New York marathon in November.
But in late October, reports said Rita Jeptoo had tested positive for EPO. That is the same drug that American Lance Armstrong admitted he had used to help him win cycling races. Ms. Jeptoo was the best-known Kenyan athlete to ever test positive for a banned substance.
She denies having taken EPO. And the sport’s governing committee in Kenya says the test results are not yet final. But the results surprised many people in Kenya’s sports community.
John Mwithiga has been training Kenyan athletes for 25 years. Some of those he has trained hold national records. He says doping has become a problem only recently.
“In (the) (19)80s we did not have doping in Kenya. In (the) (19)90s we did not have doping in Kenya. Now we are having it. We are hearing of doping cases since the year 2000.”
John Mwithiga says that even before the recent test results, some people had begun to believe that Kenyan runners were using banned substances.
“Sometimes I was in Poland last two years ago, during the world cross-country, and I heard that people from Malaysia and other places saying that ‘now we are competing against the dopers.’”
Those accusations hurt Mr. Mwithiga. He says the athletes he trains do not use illegal substances. He says they work hard and have natural talent. He blames people who come from other countries to manage Kenyan athletes for the increased use of banned drugs.
Moni Wekesa is a sports law and medicine expert at the Institute of Capacity Building in Nairobi. He believes most Kenyan runners are not using banned drugs.
“For a long time Kenya has had this image of having natural runners since the days of the Rome Olympics in 1960, and so on. In terms of long-distance running, the depth of talent is just unimaginable. And most of these are actually exerting their natural talent.”
Moni Wekesa led the anti-doping group that released its report last month. The report said Kenya has almost no controls in place to prevent doping. It said it was easy for the athletes to get banned drugs -- including from stores in Kenya. And it said most athletes do not have enough information to make the right choices.
“The problem is very bad in the sense that there’s a lot of ignorance around the matter, and the sports federations are doing nothing and have done nothing about it before. There’s no doping education going on. Many budding athletes have no idea what drugs to take and for what to take them.”
Mr. Wekesa says it is not fair to say that all Kenyan athletes are using banned drugs. He says the use of PEDs is more common in the West. But he says a closer examination of the performance of Kenyan athletes could be very good for the country.
“This perception would be coming at the right time for Kenya because for a long time Kenya believed, ‘well, we run naturally, we do our sport naturally, doping is a problem of elsewhere.’ But now with this kind of publicity, I think it’s high time that the authorities concerned sat down and did something about this.”
The Associated Press news agency says the report has been given to the Kenyan government and to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Africa office. The AP noted that some members of the country’s rugby and soccer teams were found to be using banned substances. The report said some soccer players were using marijuana, cocaine and steroids.
In early November, a Kenyan cabinet minister admitted the country had a doping problem. The minister announced plans to open an anti-doping agency by the end of this year.
I’m Christopher Cruise.
Correspondent Hilary Heuler reported this story from Nairobi. Christopher Cruise wrote it for Learning English. He also read and produced the report. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
marathon – n. a race that is about 42 kilometers long
sample – n. a small amount of something that gives you information about the thing it was taken from
doping – n. the use of an illegal substance or drug to improve an athlete’s performance
distance – n. the amount of space between two places or objects
famous – adj. known or recognized by very many people
admit – v. to express one’s guilt or responsibility
positive – adj. showing the presence of a particular germ, condition, or substance
substance – n. the material of which something is made
expert – n. a person with special knowledge or training
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