By Jonathan Gault
April 26, 2019
LONDON — Just when you thought London Marathon week couldn’t get any crazier, the Athletics Integrity Unit announced on Friday evening that half marathon world record holder Abraham Kiptum has been provisionally suspended for an Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) violation. Kiptum was scheduled to run London, his World Marathon Major debut, on Sunday.
The suspension comes just six months after Kiptum, a relative unknown at the time, burst onto the global scene by running 58:18 in Valencia to break Zersenay Tadese‘s nine-year-old half marathon world record of 58:23. Kiptum, who is coached by Joshua Kemei, the husband of Olympic marathon silver medalist Eunice Kirwa, entered Valencia with personal bests of 59:09 in the half and 2:05:26 in the full marathon but was far from a big name in the sport. In December, he ran 2:04:16 to finish second in the Abu Dhabi Marathon on what was later revealed to be a short course.
“We have a zero-tolerance policy on doping,” said London Marathon event director Hugh Brasher in a statement. “London is part of the Abbott World Marathon Majors and we recently announced a groundbreaking extensive intelligence-driven testing program. This shows the program is working. Cheats will be caught and there is no place for them in marathon running.”
Pineda Sports, the Spanish agency led by Juan Pineda that represents Kiptum, put out a statement on Friday, expressing shock at the news:
Prior to 2019, no East African athlete had been sanctioned for an ABP violation. But in the last three months, three high-profile Kenyans have been suspended: 2017 Tokyo Marathon champion Sarah Chepchirchir, 2017 World Championship 5,000-meter finalist Cyrus Rutto, and Kiptum. Until August 2018, there was no WADA-approved lab to carry out blood analysis for anti-doping purposes in East Africa.
Pineda said that Kiptum could not explain why he was suspended.
“He told me he is in shock,” Pineda said in a phone interview with LetsRun.com. “He tell me, ‘I don’t understand exactly what is happened because I never do nothing wrong. I don’t know how my body [reacts] to the altitude or with my training or what I eat.'”
“I say, ‘Abraham, I am a sport agent. I am not doctor. I am not lawyer. What can I say or what can I do?'”
According to Pineda, Kiptum was notified of irregularities in his ABP on March 27 by the AIU and asked to respond with an explanation. Kiptum emailed the AIU back on April 1, writing that he did not have an explanation as he claimed not to have doped.
“He said, ‘I don’t know exactly what to say because I don’t have this information,'” Pineda said.
In ABP cases, only the athlete is automatically notified. Pineda said he did not learn about Kiptum’s suspension until 4:00 p.m. BST on Friday, when he was called up to Kiptum’s hotel room in London by his coach. At 5:30 p.m., Kiptum was spotted being put in a car with his suitcase outside the hotel. The AIU tweeted news of Kiptum’s suspension at 6:11 p.m.
Pineda said he had no reason to be suspicious of Kiptum.
“What can I do?” Pineda said. “I live in Spain, he lives in Kenya. He do everything there. Me, I am very far [away], do you understand? What can we do?
“…I don’t know exactly what he’s doing or not doing, do you understand? It’s very difficult. What can I ask? Hey Abraham, you do something? You think he will explain to me something or he will give to me a serious answer? I need to believe what he say. He tell me, Juan, I am absolutely in shock and I cannot say nothing.’ He said he never do nothing.
“But honestly, I don’t know if it’s true or not true. I am not a lawyer.”
Pineda said he does not know whether Kiptum will fight the case, but said he will not work with Kiptum until he proves that he is not guilty.
“I said if you are not guilty, if you want to continue with the process, you need to get a lawyer and a doctor can show your body is normal,” Pineda says. “…But my work, today, is finished, until he show he is not guilty.”
Other clients of Pineda’s include double World Indoor champion Genezebe Dibaba of Ethiopia, convicted drug cheat Mathew Kisorio of Kenya (who was banned prior to working with Pineda), and Sadik Mikhou of Bahrain. Mikhou, who owns a 3:31 personal best in the 1500 meters and began working with Pineda last year, was provisionally suspended for an ABP violation in August 2018. Pineda claims that the suspicious values in Mikhou’s profile predate their association and that he began representing Mikhou because he has a good relationship with the Bahrain federation and there was a problem with Mikhou’s former manager.
“The federation and the IAAF have a problem for doping cases with the ex-manager, one guy from France, maybe you know better than me the name?” Pineda said. “But a guy from France, he has positives in doping case and is brought in for doping. [Because of] that, [Mikhou didn’t] have [a] manager and the federation gives [Mikhou] to me.”
I asked Pineda whether he was worried about his reputation, given that two of his athletes have been suspended for ABP violations in the last eight months. In a long, rambling explanation, he responded emphatically that he was not.
“I do not worry about my reputation. Why? Why? Why do I need to be worried about my reputation? No, I am not worried about my reputation. Why? Listen, I need to be worried to be manager? No. I am not worried. Why would I be worried? Why? I am nothing worried…Why I need to be worried? Me, I am not worried. Worried man should be the athlete. But me, why? Nothing worried. Me, I am now drinking a beer with my friends. Why I need to be worried? I did my good job. I did a good job with him. I met with the sponsor, I put him in London…I have 100 athletes in my group. How you can control this? Can you explain to me?…Why in athletics, everybody is crazy with us (the managers)? I don’t understand that. In football or American football or tennis or basket[ball], when somebody has a problem, the problem is for the person. But here, everybody is accusing now the managers. Why? Now you are asking me that, you are worried? Why I need to be worried? Why?”