By Jonathan Gault
October 29, 2019
On October 16, three days after running 2:14:04 to break the women’s world record in the marathon in Chicago, Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei was trotted out in front of her home nation’s media at a press conference held at Athletics Kenya headquarters in Nairobi. As it inevitably does in the wake of an earth-shattering performance, the subject of doping came up. That’s where things got interesting.
Kenya’s recent troubles with doping are no secret. According to WADA, 131 Kenyan athletes tested positive for a prohibited substance between 2004 and 2018, which led the IAAF’s Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) to label Kenya as one of just five Category A member federations — those posing the highest doping risk to the sport.
In this case, the comments of note came not from Kosgei, but her coach, Erick Kimaiyo. Kimaiyo said that when there is a positive test, it is the individual athlete’s fault — and no one else’s. And while Kosgei has never tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, many outlets — including this one — have noted that she is represented by Rosa & Associati, the agency headed by Italian Federico Rosa, who represented three of Kenya’s most notorious dopers: three-time Boston Marathon champion Rita Jeptoo and Olympic champions Jemima Sumgong, and Asbel Kiprop. During his own career, Kimaiyo, a 2:07 marathoner and two-time winner of the Honolulu Marathon, was coached by Federico’s father, Gabriele, who founded Rosa & Associati.
“It’s not the duty of a coach to police an athlete so as not to use banned substances,” Kimaiyo said, according to the Daily Nation. “Any athlete found doping should be dealt with, not managers. I don’t think athletes are forced to take banned substances. They do it individually, so they should be responsible for their actions.”
But doping doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Just five days after Kimaiyo’s comments, 17-year-old Kenyan 800-meter runner Angela Ndungwa Munguti was provisionally suspended after testing positive for norandrosterone, a metabolite of the banned anabolic steroid nandrolone. How does a 17-year-old acquire steroids?
More interesting still: Kimaiyo’s comments about Kosgei’s own testing record. Again, from the Daily Nation:
“Brigid was tested six times before Chicago Marathon and before that, eight times ahead of London Marathon,” Kimaiyo said. “She will never dodge a test. There are three times the anti-doping officials did not test her and they made a big deal out of it yet she was sick or had left the training venue when they arrived. Let them test her to the last minute. We are ready for the tests.”
Given that three missed tests in a 12-month period triggers a two-year ban from the sport, this was a staggering quote. The track world all but combusted earlier this year after it was revealed that star sprinter Christian Coleman failed to make himself available for drug tests three times in a 12-month period. Kosgei just took 81 seconds off of one of the most famous records in track & field. Missing three tests would be a major, major story.
But, as we learned in the case of Coleman, who was subsequently cleared and did not serve a ban, there is often more to the story. Did Kosgei actually miss three tests? Here’s what we know.
Barnabas Korir, Executive Committee member and Chairman of the Youth Development Committee at Athletics Kenya, was at the press conference and said it was important to understand the context in which Kimaiyo made his comments.
“Unfortunately we have people from other countries, they come, they collect information and they twist the whole story to damage the reputation of the athletes and the federation,” Korir said.
According to Korir, Kimaiyo said that on one occasion, testers tried to test Kosgei at her residence when she was sick and had gone to the hospital. On a second occasion, Kimaiyo said that Kosgei was out for training and there was a breakdown on the road that prevented her from arriving home in a timely fashion.
“They could not get back to the house where they were staying on time before the testers arrived,” Korir said. “So when they arrived, they told them that they were still on the road and the vehicle was damaged. They are saying that it is not that she is trying to cover anything or to avoid being tested. But there are some circumstances that sometimes it can be out of control, like when you get sick or when you go for training and something happens on the way on the road.”
If there was a third incident — there is some doubt as to whether Kimaiyo was quoted correctly and even if he was, it remains unclear when those missed tests took place — Korir said Kimaiyo did not provide an explanation. Korir said that Athletics Kenya did not have a problem with Kimaiyo’s explanation.
“To us, it was not an issue, the way he explained,” Korir said, crediting Kimaiyo for being open. “Maybe he had a problem explaining in English, I don’t know. But for me, I understand exactly what he meant.”
The AIU is primarily in charge of Kosgei’s testing. Jasper Rugut, CEO of the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya (ADAK), told LetsRun.com that Kosgei is part of the AIU’s testing pool, not in the ADAK Registered Testing Pool.
“According to our records, she has been tested a total number 54 times, and out of those, only once by ADAK, during the Kakamega Forest Half Marathon in November 2018,” Rugut wrote in a text message to LetsRun.com. “If there are any missed tests then [they] were not in our testing missions.”
The AIU provided the following statement to LetsRun.com:
“Brigid Kosgei is an IAAF Registered Testing Pool athlete. The Athletics Integrity Unit has jurisdiction over her, and she is subject to the whereabouts requirements under the IAAF Anti-Doping Rules just like any other athlete on the IAAF RTP. Despite what her coach has said, we cannot comment on any specifics of her testing. What we can say is that if there are any unsuccessful attempts to test an athlete in our RTP, we are across all the details and the issue is dealt with in accordance with the requirements of the World Anti-Doping Code. We will not comment any further on the matter.”
The anti-doping authorities will never talk publicly about official whereabouts failures unless a formal charge is levied for three in a 12-month period, and Kosgei’s agent Federico Rosa said in an email to LetsRun.com that Kosgei currently has just one missed test on her record.
“I think something went lost in translation as Erick, from what I know, was talking in Swahili, and I was not there,” Rosa wrote. “But just to clear as I did previously to a couple of your colleagues, Brigid has 1 miss[ed] test in the last 12 month[s].”
Rosa told Justin Horneker that that missed test occurred around December 2018 or January 2019; it is unclear if that missed test corresponds to one of the incidents described by Kimaiyo.
So that’s where we currently stand. The facts, as we currently know them, do not comprise a damning indictment of Kosgei, yet given the questions about the testing process in Kenya — when Kiprop tested positive, he was given advance notice of the test and gave money to his tester — the explanation is not wholly satisfying either. Not yet.
Kimaiyo has admitted that Kosgei was unavailable for testing at certain times and provided an explanation as to why. But Coleman also had explanations for why he could not be tested on three occasions — yet he still received a whereabouts failure each time. So did Kosgei receive a whereabouts failure for any of the incidents? And if not, why not? Those are the questions that still need to be answered. And regardless of Kimaiyo’s intentions, this story will remain uncomfortable until they are.