May 2, 2017
Last month the news broke that the “A” sample of Jemima Sumgong, the 2016 Olympic marathon champion, had tested positive for EPO. If the “B” sample confirms the result, Sumgong will be the most prominent Kenyan athlete banned from the sport for doping and she will be ineliglbe for the $500,000 Abbott World Marathon Majors title she had wrapped up. Sumgong is the former training partner of former World Marathon Majors champion Rita Jeptoo, also of Kenya, who tested positive for EPO in 2014. Sumgong, Jeptoo, and 26:54 10,000m runner Mathew Kisorio, who tested positive for steroids and admitted to using EPO in 2012, were managed by Rosa & Associati, the sports agency run by Dr. Gabriele Rosa and his son Federico Rosa, at the time of their positive tests. Dr. Rosa has been involved with Kenyan athletics since 1990, both as a coach and agent (Moses Tanui, Paul Tergat, Margaret Okayo, Martin Lel and Asbel Kiprop are among the athletes he has represented), and his involvement in Kenyan athletics has coincided with the Kenyan marathon boom and the professionalization of the sport.
Unbelievable side note: in 1990, there wasn’t a single Kenyan woman in the top 200 marathon times of the year, and only one Kenyan man in the top 100 according to the Association of Road Race Statisticians. Last year, Kenyan women had 29 of the top 100, while Kenyan men had 76 of the top 100 times. Only two of the top 100 men’s times were from a non-African runner according to All-Athletics.com.
The Rosa & Associati training group that Sumgong is a part of is the #1 women’s marathon group in the world right now. In addition to Sumgong, it includes the reigning Tokyo Marathon champion (Sarah Chepchirchir, 2:19:47 pb), the reigning Paris Marathon champion (Purity Rionoripo) and last year’s Paris champion and Rio Olympian Visiline Jepkesho. The group is very tight-knit as all of the athletes are coached by Sumgong’s husband, Noah Talam, who also is Sarah Chepchirchir’s brother. LetsRun.com spent a day at the camp in March and you can read that report here: My Trip to a Possible Doping Camp in Kenya: What I Saw When I Spent a Day with Olympic Champion Jemima Sumgong.
In the light of another prominent Rosa & Associati athlete testing positive, we reached out to the Rosas to see if they would answer some of our questions about doping in Kenya. They agreed to respond to questions we emailed them. All of the answers below are considering joint answers by the Rosas unless specified.
LRC: Since the news of Sumgong’s “A” positive test was announced, what have you discovered about the situation? Do you believe Sumgong was doping? Have you conducted any internal investigation to figure out what was going on?
Rosas: We became aware of Sumgong’s positivity only through the letter that she wrote to me. We deployed all our people to try and get as much information as possible also considering that Jemima has not been answering the phone since then and her husband Noah Talam rarely answers to us, and gives confusing answers.
In a statement, Jemima said she had problems on February the 22nd and had gone to the hospital. Oddly, just after having had an out of competition check in the morning and saying she had injections for blood loss. At that time, she was not able to tell the name of the doctor and not even the hospital’s where she went to.
LRC: The Rosa e Associati statement said, “doping in Kenya has become a plague, because of unscrupulous Kenyans doctors who approach the athletes, brainwashing and subjecting them to illegal treatments.” However in this case, Sumgong is coached by her husband Noah Talam, who is also the brother of Sarah Chepchirchir. Assuming Sumgong did test positive, it is hard to believe her husband and coach would not know what was going on. It is even possible that he was orchestrating the doping. Considering the familial relationships involved and Rita Jeptoo’s positive test, it is hard to believe this is an isolated incident. What sort of contact have you had with Noah Talam and what is his status and the status of the other runners in the group?
We are all very concerned about the issue. We have currently decided to suspend both Talam and all the athletes in Jemima’s group. Since we do not have a clear picture, we cannot express ourselves safely. As we have done in the previous cases, we have suspended the whole group, asking everyone for maximum cooperation in providing us or our local collaborators with any piece of information they are aware of.
LRC: Do you believe more members of the group were doping? When I [LetsRun.com’ Weldon Johnson] visited the camp in March, Jemima, Sarah and Purity Rionoripo all credited their coach for their success. Purity said, “Our coach is very fantastic, very nice, very wonderful coach. He treats us as brothers and sisters.”
In the light of Jemima’s positivity, doubts are obviously present. We would like to point out that these athletes do not live in the camp but at their homes with their families. Every day they meet with the coach to go training and then return each to their home.
During your visit to the camp, I asked them all to meet you at the male camp, in order to simplify your work and give you the opportunity to meet them all.
In the fall Gabriele Rosa told LetsRun.com, “What I say to Claudio [was], ‘Why are you every day twice per day with the athletes and you are not able to understand [that Rita Jeptoo was doping]?” We understood with the departure of Claudio that Gabriele became more involved with the coaching so we’d like to ask him the very same question he asked of Claudio. How can he be at practice and not know she is doping? What does he have to say to people who say he a) had to know of doping going on the camp or was involved with it or b) should have known what was going on.
Gabriele Rosa reply: Let me reaffirm that I am certain that Claudio Berardelli has no implications with doping in Kenya. Personally, in the last 18 months, I’ve been to Kenya for a total of 2 weeks, at the Olympics Trials and later on in January at the Discovery Kenya. Therefore, I was able to attend very few trainings and it was impossible to get a sense that something was going wrong.
As I did in the 15 years before Claudio’s arrival, I only send training programs to the coaches of the various training camps.
N.B. My activities in Italy: I am President and CEO of 4 companies.
Gabriele also said, “I guarantee that Claudio is not involved in doping – completely. I trust in him completely – but maybe he was too young to know what was going on in Kenya. I respect Claudio a lot. He is a good coach but maybe he is too friendly. You must not trust too much. You must be distant. In 50 years, I never had one doping case – never.” Noah Talam told me the same thing about Claudio “Claudio was victimized. There were some athletes misled by local people. They went and did the wrong things.” Does this Sumgong positive test make the Rosas reassess what happened with Jeptoo’s positive and what they think of Claudio and/or Noah Talam?
We confirm what has been stated before and that is not to trust them too much. As for Claudio, we reiterate his total non-involvement into the facts. At the moment, we cannot talk about Talam even though it is natural that the trust in him is becoming less and less.
How closely do you monitor the relationship between your athletes and their doctors? Will you monitor these relationships more closely in the future?
We do not know the personal doctors of our athletes nor we know that they have any personal doctors, as unfortunately emerged in the cases of Rita and Kisorio.
Unfortunately, sometimes they go to the doctors on their own without informing us or informing us afterwards, sometimes in good faith, sometimes obviously in bad faith.
Usually, if they have any problems, we invite them to tell us immediately, and if they are muscular problems, we are in touch with a very good sonographer who gives us a first picture of the situation.
The other doctors we work with are the ones of the lab where we test the athlete’s blood values and an Italian physician in Nairobi, who helps us in the case of tropical or infectious diseases, being one of the world’s leading experts in tropical diseases.
How often do the Rosas talk to their athletes about the importance of competing clean?
We always explain to the training camp coaches that the athletes need to be clean. The contract can be immediately terminated if the athlete is found positive. This is a clause written in the contract that we highlight greatly during the signing.
After the first three doping positives from their athletes (Kisorio, Jeptoo, Jeruto), did the Rosas change anything to ensure that no more of their athletes take performance-enhancing drugs?
After Jeptoo’s positivity we asked the IAAF and the Kenyan Federation to introduce more restrictive controls on the group of athletes with whom Rita trained, giving all the information needed.
In addition, from that time on, we began to carry out blood tests on athletes to monitor any changes in blood values that are the basis of the biological passport, or any abnormal values. In the first year of this activity, we fired 2 athletes who had non-conforming blood tests and removed one who refused to undergo controls, informing IAAF, AK, teammates, managers and organizers about our decision and our doubts.
After the Sumgong positive, are the Rosas going to take any proactive steps to combat the scourge of doping in the sport?
The Rosas have always fought the doping, not only after the Sumgong case, and invite everyone in the athletics world to make Kenya run a tough battle to protect their athletes. We would like to emphasize that there are currently 60 cases of positivity in Kenya.
It seems like in the best-case scenario, the Rosas were naive to what was going on in their very own camp after another prominent runner had tested positive for EPO. These runners receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money and the Rosas get their percentage. Do they feel like they have received any unjust money and will they use any of it to help combat doping?
We reiterate that these cases did not happen within our camps, as all athletes found positive are living, as said, at their homes with their families.
We invest heavily in Kenya, and we have been doing this for many years, building training camps, schools, hospitals, churches and aqueducts, giving many young people the opportunity to train and study by paying their school fees. In our history in Kenya we have worked with more than 1,500 athletes and Claudio and Federico were fundamental witnesses to the 4-years disqualification of Rita Jeptoo, as widely documented by the IAAF.
The money we invest in Kenya does not derive from the dirty gains of positive athletes, who are immediately fired, but from the healthy source that always exists in the Country.
I think that the right way to fight doping in Kenya is not to criminalize the Rosas or other foreign managers, as intended, but to come together to the true sources of this terrible plague by unveiling the people who are behind it.
Editor’s note: In the interim before receiving responses, we emailed a follow-up question.
L’Equipe is saying that the entire group including Sarah Chepchirchir have been suspended. Is that the case? If so, what will happen to the money won in Tokyo and Paris this year?
When irregularities in anti-doping controls are found, athletes do not make any profits from the marathons they won.
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