77 out of 800. Nearly 10%, in other words, of all the athletes suspected of blood doping were Kenyan. This globally explosive story came from results of more than 12,000 tests leaked to The Sunday Times and the German broadcaster ARD/WDR this past summer.
Kipsang, who sprinted away in flawless form from Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa Benti, and the other 50,529 finishers, to win the 2014 NYC Marathon by seven seconds - in his debut no less - is fighting back. Calling them “...just allegations...” he’s asking names to be named. He adds, and this point doesn’t make any sense, (perhaps the Guardian lost something in the transcription or translation) “...the spate of positive drug tests in Kenya is partly down to some coaches in his country ‘taking advantage of the ignorance of some guys to kill the sport’ ”.
Why on earth would any coach want to kill his sport?
But here’s why so many athletes would blood dope. It’s hard to detect. The signs can be gone in as little as two days - but the athletic benefits can last for weeks, three months, even.
Thus, endurance athletes are all over this blood doping EPO stuff. EPO (erythropoietin) is a hormone. The body produces it naturally, but for athletes looking to have their muscles work longer, having a higher red blood count means more oxygen can be transported to muscles, so they inject it. They can stick it to themselves.
But they, in the doing, can screw themselves. Too many red blood cells can cause blood clotting and death.
Why risk your reputation and rigor mortis on blood doping? Money, prestige...money.
(The purse for the six-city marathons of Boston, New York, Chicago, London, Berlin, and Tokyo - the Abbott World Marathon Majors - is $500,000 for the runner with the best results in the bunch.)
But the New York Road Runners (NYRR), bureaucratic-boss of the Big Apple Marathon, now disallows any runner suspended for two months or longer due to doping, to be eligible for prize or bonus money.
That’s gotta help.
Clean runners smeared by these suspicious results and sport-damaging allegations are certainly thankful. And thankfully, finally, reliable EPO tests arrived in 2000, only 14 years after doping was made illegal in 1986.
Everybody’s blaming the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) - a body pulled apart supporting, on the one hand, sport, and policing, on the other hand, sport - for this. The leaked data was theirs. Their dual, diametrically distant positions are untenable.
Now, the venerable NYC Marathon and its boosters would much rather talk of how this race is the biggest in the world, with its over 2 million on-site spectators and over 300 million TV viewers, and how it pumps hundreds of millions into the city’s economy - approximately 415 million for the 2014 running alone, and how it will be even better this year with the new NYC Marathon Pavilion, and how, this 2015, hard-working (hard running anyway) top city officials like Buildings Commissioner, Rick Chandler, and Mayor Bill de Blasio Communications Director, Andrea Hagelgans, and another 30 civic swivel-seat wizards, are entrants.
OK, back to the Kenyans. Why do they so excel in this iconic race? (Don’t forget the 2014 NYC Women’s Marathon winner was Kenya’s Mary Keitany.)
Way back in 1960 the book “The Physique of the Olympic athlete” written by British physician, James M. Tanner, came out. The upshot?
"Amongst competitors in both track and field events there are large significant racial differences. As nature would have it, different populations are better suited to excel at anaerobic activities such as sprinting, jumping, and lifting, than at aerobic sports such as distance running, cycling, and swimming.”
Nowadays, genetics and racial differences are touchy subjects. (Kip Keino and Mike Boit, Kenyan running heroes, both play down such possible factors as attributing to Kenyan running successes.)
But can anyone deny that in Kenya most of the best runners, like Wilson Kipsang, come from the Kalenjin tribe, the “running tribe”? This group’s people have thin ankles and calves. The less weight at the bottom of one’s legs, the better for long-distance running. Don’t think so? Run with two-pound ankle weights - see how your race times go...
Reasons for Kenya’s kismet, karma-like marathon accomplishments and aura, start with life styles: many country-rural Kenyan kids run to and from school morning, noon, and night.
And add these factors:
the nation’s passion, high expectations, and pride for the sport; eating a maize porridge staple (Uji); success begetting success; strict, serious mental preparation; having confidence and a positive attitude knowing, however, your competition is excellent - so overconfidence has no place, reason, or rationale to be; the geographic advantage of high altitude training - with the popular training spot of Iten, for example, 8,000+ feet above sea level; training specifics focusing on core strength, posture, alignment, and stability through, believe it or not, fast - and slow - paced workouts; recovery from those workouts thru loads of sleep and lots of relaxation; running more on dirt paths and less on injury-inducing track tarmacs; the seemingly pervasive Kenyan aptitude and attitude to push and persevere through pain, pains forged during cultural and tribal coming-of-age rites; short memories - allowing for a bad race to be forgotten; materialism: with marathon road racing being a “chasing money” avenue out of poverty;
And ultimately, having patience.
Every Kenyan knows, to make it nationally, and then internationally, to, say, in the NYC Marathon realistically, takes time...
Time, Wilson Kipsang won’t have to spare, to waste worrying about blood doping athletes - not if he wants to make haste and win this NYC Marathon for the second time in a row...
Because, really - you should know, in New York City, timing is everything.