NAIROBI, December 31- The year will end with international female marathon running in limbo due to the shocking drug bust of Kenyan star Rita Jeptoo whose A and B samples tested positive for blood booster EPO.
The outing of Jeptoo, the two-time Boston and Chicago marathon champion as a drug cheat not only caused ripples across the World Marathon Majors elite circuit but also ruthlessly entangled her country, long held in high esteem for her established distance running tradition, into the doping web.
As a result of the thunder-bolt news, Athletics Kenya (AK) were forced to come out of their shells and staunch defence of the country’s runners and admit banned substances use was rampart with as many as ten cases exposed in the past month alone.
On the female full marathon scene, an evenly matched fight for supremacy between Kenya and Ethiopia in recent years spilled into 2014.
The Marathon Majors series provided one illustration: in those six races Kenya had 4-2 in wins, Ethiopia 4-2 in second places and they ended up 2-2 in third places (USA and Portugal had one third place each).
This year was a rather quiet championship year, nothing on the global level and the African Championships didn’t include the marathon so Kenya and Ethiopia never faced off as national teams.
Kenya did, however, take the first two places through Flomena Cheyech and Caroline Kilel at the Commonwealth Games and the Kenyan-born Bahraini runner Eunice Kirwa won the Asian Games title.
The quickest 2014 times came on the classical – but slightly downhill and therefore not eligible for record purposes – Boston Marathon course where the first four surpassed the existing course record of 2:20:43 and the top-two, Rita Jeptoo and Buzunesh Deba, even dipped under the exclusive 2:20-barrier.
The fastest record-legal times came in London in the spring and in Berlin in the autumn.
In London, Kenya’s double world champion Edna Kiplagat ran 2:20:21 to take a narrow win over her compatriot Florence Kiplagat and Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba, the multiple gold medallist on the track now making a promising debut as a marathon runner.
The Berlin Marathon was dominated by Ethiopian runners with four of the top five places, with Tirfe Tsegaye crossing the line first in a world-leading time of 2:20:18.
The final Major of the year in New York saw Mary Keitany make a successful return to the marathon after a maternity break. In the chilly and windy conditions, a 2:25:07 time was sufficient to triumph.
After confirmation of Jeptoo’s failed dope test conducted several weeks before her Chicago Marathon win in mid-October the results landscape is likely to be altered significantly by sanctions imposed upon her and subsequent revision of results of the races she ran in.
The announcement of Jeptoo’s A-sample testing positive for EPO was made days before she was due to travel to New York for the presentation of her share of the WMM series jackpot worth $500,000 (Sh45,308,815.83) that was put on hold.
With a perfect score of 100 over the 2013-14 cycle, failure by Edna Kiplagat to win the New York race means even if her Chicago win is chalked off, she would still top the standings with 75 points, throwing a further dilemma to the organisers of the two-year cycle elite circuit.
Strongest in the last few kilometres was Gladys Cherono who won in 1:07:29, 15 seconds in front of Mary Wacera and 23 seconds ahead of Selly Chepyego.
The fact that the half marathon is an event ruled by Kenya is underlined by the fact that their World Half Marathon Championships team did not include the four fastest runners in the world in 2014: Florence Kiplagat, Mary Keitany, Joyce Chepkirui and Priscah Jeptoo.
Kiplagat trimmed 38 seconds off the world record with her 1:05:12 run in Barcelona a month earlier, former record-holder Keitany in September won the Great North Run in 1:05:39 (slightly downhill, but she notably did shave one second off Paula Radcliffe’s 11-year-old course record), Chepkirui triumphed in the Prague race in April in 1:06:18 and Jeptoo in February won the prestigious RAK race in 1:07:02.
The world record by Kiplagat was a brilliant example of ‘balanced effort’ running. Her first 5km – which included a rise of some 20 metres – took 15:50, after which she clicked off 5km splits of 15:19, 15:28 and 15:20 before sprinting the last 1097.5 metres in 3:16.
The fastest 10km on the roads this year was also run by another Kenyan, Betsy Saina, who clocked a sparkling 30:46 on the fast Tilburg course in September.
Saina was the only runner under 31 minutes this year with the next best being training partners and friends Chepkirui and Cherono, who had a thrilling race in Berlin with both women being given the time of 31:02 but the verdict going to Chepkirui.
-Material from iaaf.org used to compile this report