10K Road WR Holder Rhonex Kipruto Banned Six Years for ABP Violations

Kipruto will lose his 10k road world record and 2019 Worlds 10k bronze as a result

The Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) announced on Wednesday that a disciplinary tribunal had upheld its suspension of Rhonex Kipruto, banning the Kenyan distance star six years for Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) abnormalities and disqualifying all results from September 2, 2018 – May 11, 2023. Barring a successful appeal of his case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), Kipruto will be stripped of his 10,000-meter bronze medal from the 2019 World Championships and his 10k road world record of 26:24, set in Valencia in January 2020.

Kipruto, who has maintained his innocence since being charged by the AIU in May 2023, has not yet announced whether he plans to appeal the case to CAS. The full disciplinary tribunal’s decision can be read here.

Kenya is in the midst of a doping epidemic and Kipruto is the second big name to have been sanctioned in the last month. On May 17, the AIU banned Rodgers Kwemoi in a very similar case. Both men were successful from a young age (Kwemoi was the 2016 World U20 10,000-meter champion; Kipruto won the same title two years later) and both were suspended for ABP violations. Additionally, both men had their bans increased from the standard four years to six due to “aggravating circumstances” — namely that the AIU determined they repeatedly doped in the leadup to major competitions, including the Kenyan Olympic trials in 2021. Kipruto and Kwemoi would go on to form 2/3rds of the Kenyan squad in the 2021 Olympic 10,000-meter final.

Kipruto’s case is particularly noteworthy considering his age — at 24, he is firmly in his athletic prime — and the identity of his coach, Brother Colm O’Connell, the famed Irish missionary who guided David Rudisha to two Olympic 800-meter gold medals. Kipruto was the first of O’Connell’s athletes to be charged with doping during his 40+ year coaching career, and O’Connell defended Kipruto when he was charged last year, calling him a “clean athlete.”

Kipruto went to great lengths to attempt to prove his innocence, including a painful bone marrow biopsy to test for genetic or medical conditions. He also conducted a seven-week study in which Kipruto alternated and compared urine samples collected during weeks of sobriety with those collected during weeks of heavy alcohol consumption to see whether his drinking had contributed to the abnormalities in his ABP. His agency, Ikaika Sports, has even created a website outlining Kipruto’s entire defense, with explanations from the expert witnesses Kipruto called in his hearing. This level of vigor and transparency in appeal effort is rarely seen in even the highest-profile doping cases.

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Kipruto is set to be stripped of his bronze from the 2019 Worlds (Kevin Morris photo)

And yet the disciplinary tribunal was unconvinced, noting that while Kipruto’s team suggested several possible explanations for Kipruto’s abnormal results, including his alcohol use and three separate hematological disorders, they were unable to link those explanations to the specific abnormal blood values in Kipruto’s ABP profile.

“The Athlete’s Expert Team have neither provided a concrete diagnosis nor an explanation as to how the abnormalities in the Passport can be attributed to the causes they have assigned,” the tribunal wrote in its decision. “Even after months of investigation, it appears that the Expert Team is unable to present any concrete findings that could provide an answer to the relevant questions. The doubts that can be heard from the Expert Team’s statements speak for themselves.”

As soon as the decision was released, Ikaika Sports released its own nine-page press release in response, with Kipruto’s agent Davor Savija calling for more active deterrence in ABP cases.

“We ask the industry to discuss the alternative in which flagged samples would be communicated early and the athlete would be asked for medical, training and lifestyle explanations in real-time,” Savija wrote. “If you are caught speeding in a car, you are challenged by the authorities almost instantly, instead of being challenged after a certain number of similar speeding events.”

Savija wrote that Kipruto has several factors to consider before deciding whether to appeal his case to CAS.

“My advice to Rhonex has been consistent throughout this process – follow the lead of legal and scientific teams,” Savija wrote. “In relation to potential appeal at CAS, my advice to Rhonex is to wait for pending genetic testing to come in and to have legal and scientific teams evaluate the case further, in light of these new testing results and said Decision. 

“I am aware of the spiritual, psychological and financial burden all these medical investigations have had on Rhonex and appeal at CAS needs to be considered in light of these massive challenges as well.”


LRC Analysis

Quick Take: Kipruto will be stripped of some major honors, including his Worlds bronze and world record

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The AIU disqualified all of Kipruto’s results from September 2, 2018 – May 11, 2023, a period of nearly five years. He will keep his World U20 gold from July 2018 but his pbs of 13:07/26:24/57:49 will all be invalidated, and he’ll be stripped of some significant honors, including a Worlds bronze, a world record, and two Peachtree Road Race victories, including the 2019 edition in which he was awarded $58,000 in prize money for setting a course record. Here’s a look at some of the races that will be affected:

(Note that Kipruto still has the option to appeal the AIU decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, so he has not officially been stripped of these results as of now).

2019 Peachtree Road Race: Kipruto won in a course record of 27:01. Should that result be stripped, Bravin Kipkogei (27:31) would be elevated to 2019 champion, while the course record would return to the late Joseph Kimani, who ran 27:04 in 1996.

2019 Worlds 10,000 meters: Kipruto took the bronze in 26:50.32. Normally his medal would pass to the fourth-placer, but that was Rodgers Kwemoi, who is also banned and had his results DQ’d during that period. So original 5th placer Andamlak Belihu of Ethiopia would be be the new bronze medalist.

2020 Valencia 10K: Kipruto set a road world record of 26:24 in this race. That record would now belong to Ethiopia’s Berihu Aregawi, who ran 26:33 at the Villa de Laredo in Spain in March 2023.

2022 NYC Half: Kipruto won this race in 60:37, which means Edward Cheserek (60:37) would be the new champion.

2022 Peachtree Road Race: Kipruto finished first in 27:27; that victory would pass to runner-up Kibiwott Kandie (27:35).

Quick Take: The AIU is sending a message by handing down a six-year ban

Under Rule 10.8.1 of the World Athletics Anti-Doping rules, any athlete who admits to an anti-doping rule violation within 20 days of being charged will receive a one-year reduction in their sanction. A number of athletes have taken advantage of that rule recently to turn four-year bans into three-year bans.

That doesn’t necessarily mean Kipruto and Kwemoi could have cut their bans in half by confessing immediately — they were given six-year bans for “aggravating circumstances,” so perhaps the AIU would have reduced a six-year ban to five. But it is fair to wonder whether the AIU would have pursued a six-year ban if Kipruto and Kwemoi accepted their bans right away. Would the AIU have simply handed them three-year bans in return for avoiding months of investigations and expensive trials? (Update: Kipruto’s agent Davor Savija told LetsRun.com that the AIU’s initial notice of charge sought a six-year ban. So even a prompt admission would have likely still resulted in a five-year suspension for Kipruto).

Athletes in these cases must decide whether it is worth it to pour their savings into mounting a defense for an ABP violation when it can be hard to find experts with a nuanced understanding of the ABP to argue on their behalf. Kwemoi relied upon pro bono representation in his case, but Kipruto spent great time and expense mounting a defense only to be handed a six-year ban — and those expenses could grow if he decides to appeal to CAS.

That said, 2022 steeple world champ Norah Jeruto showed just last year that it is possible to win an appeal against the AIU in an ABP case, even if some of the evidence used to clear her was not entirely convincing. Of course, Jeruto, who has returned to competition in 2024, still has more legal fees ahead of her and could still end up being banned since the AIU has appealed the case to CAS.

Talk about the ban on our messageboard: Rhonex Kipruto 6-Year Ban Official.

Editor’s note: The original version of this story said Kipruto had been stripped of his results, including two Peachtree Road Race wins. The article has been updated to reflect the fact that those Peachtree wins have yet to be officially stripped because Kipruto still has the option to appeal to CAS. Below is a statement from the Atlanta Track Club, which operates Peacthree, on the matter:

“Atlanta Track Club is committed to the integrity of sport. For decades, we have conducted drug testing of the elite athlete field at the Peachtree as part of our efforts to maintain a clean and fair environment for competition. We learned the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) has banned Rhonex Kipruto for six years due to violations of its Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) and disqualified his results going back to 2018. We recognize this impacts the results of the Peachtree from 2019 and from 2022.

“According to his legal representation, Kipruto plans to appeal the AIU’s decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Pending more information on the status of that appeal, we will refrain from further comments.”

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