Sample collector tipped off Kenyan star about doping test

A drug-testing officer has admitted he gave Kenyan runner Asbel Kiprop advance warning of a supposedly unannounced out-of-competition doping test, a clear violation of protocol that renews doubts about the reliability of anti-doping in the East African powerhouse of distance running.

Track and field’s anti-doping unit described the officer’s actions as “extremely disappointing” and said the IAAF’s disciplinary tribunal will determine whether the tip-off rendered the test invalid. If so, the 1,500-meter Olympic champion from 2008 could escape sanction for the banned blood-boosting hormone EPO found in his urine sample.

Out-of-competition tests are supposed to be a surprise, to maximize the chances of catching cheats unaware and to leave them no time to flush banned substances out of their system. The IAAF has previously acknowledged that because of difficulties in getting samples to labs quickly from remote regions where elite athletes train, the rules have been regularly bent in Kenya when collecting blood, with athletes told in advance of tests for the IAAF biological passport program.

But the IAAF insisted athletes in Kenya get no advance notice for all other doping tests, including the collection of urine samples, that don’t have to reach labs so quickly.

Kiprop said not only was he tipped off the day before the Nov. 27 test, but the doping control officer also asked him for money while collecting the sample. Kiprop said he wired funds to the man’s mobile phone while he and another doping control officer were still in his house in Iten, Kenya. Kiprop did not say how much he supposedly paid and he has yet to make public any electronic receipts.

“At that time I did not see the money as inducement or bribe for anything,” Kiprop said. “In retrospect I now clearly see the money as having a relation with the sample collected on that date, and even the irregular advance notice I was given.”

The Athletics Integrity Unit that oversees anti-doping for the IAAF said in response to emailed questions from The Associated Press that it is still investigating Kiprop’s allegation that funds changed hands and wouldn’t comment further.

In a separate statement on Friday about Kiprop’s test, the AIU said the officer and the three-time world champion knew each other and he “admitted that he provided Mr. Kiprop with advanced notice of the testing.”

There have long been concerns about the quality of anti-doping in Kenya. Dozens of Kenyan runners have been banned for doping in recent years — many of them caught only when they were tested outside of the country. Kenyan authorities have faced international pressure to get their house in order, not least because the country’s high plateaus are a favored training spot not only for Kenyan runners but also for elite athletes from other countries, too.

The AIU said Kiprop tested positive for EPO. It said the tip-off should not invalidate the test result because it “could not reasonably have caused EPO to be present in Mr. Kiprop’s sample.” However, it also said: “This will ultimately be a matter for the tribunal to determine.”

Kiprop insists he did not dope, and said his sample might have been tampered with.

“It is not beyond my suspicion that my sample turned positive because I might have remitted less money than I was expected to remit,” Kiprop said.

The AIU said it “is satisfied that there has been no mix up or tampering.”

Kiprop also said he was offered an IAAF ambassadorial role if he admitted to doping. He said he refused. The AIU rejected that claim. It said AIU investigators offered him an opportunity to confess and to give information about doping — under an anti-doping rule that allows for reduced punishments for whistleblowers.

“This is standard practice for the AIU when serious doping substances have been detected in any sample,” it said. “Any suggestion that there was anything improper about this conversation is categorically untrue.”