The 2016 Olympic Marathon champion got handed an extra four years on her doping ban last week. The story broke on Friday, and you can read the summary from Sean Ingle here.
My brief recap – Sumgong wins the Olympic gold in Rio in 2016, then fails an EPO test in April 2017, in the lead up to defending her London Marathon title.
Her explanation is an ectopic pregnancy that required a blood transfusion in February that year. Unlike other medical explanations offered in the past (think Hamilton vanishing twin), Sumgong provided medical records in support of her explanation.
When those hospital records were revealed as faked, Sumgong’s tap-dance was that there’d been a doctor’s strike and she’d been treated by an impostor, which explained the lack of proper records.
That explanation was not accepted, hence the initial four year ban. The IAAF’s tribunal then added another four years, and restarted the now eight-year ban (so any time served is negated), because they ruled there was compelling evidence that she had fabricated her medical records, and lied about her whereabouts (to make the fabrication fit), in a “deliberate attempt to prevent the administration of justice”.
So far so good. If punishment is to act as a deterrent, then both the crime and the cover-up should be treated separately. Depending on your perspective, it’s a disincentive for athletes in the future (be warned), or it creates precedent for authorities to lean on athletes to be honest in the first place after failing a test. Less evasion, more honesty, target the networks, maybe everything gets a little less murky. Punishing the lie more harshly than the crime makes sense.
The only thing I wonder, and it’s all I’ll add to the story, is whether this is not a perfect case to really aggressively pursue the entourage around the athlete. Given the group she trains with (Rita Jeptoo, who won Boston and Chicago in 2014 had both those titles stripped for EPO use), the situation in Kenya as we know it exists, where agents and doctors are providing drugs, and the depth of that problem, seems to me a good deal of the cover-up might be discovered by pulling on the threads of the Sumgong case.
Take for instance the process of fabricating those medical records. I can’t see how that’s a one-person venture. Sure, Sumgong had experienced the same medical problem in 2009, which perhaps lent itself to an accessible excuse, but to produce five forged hospital documents to re-inforce the lie seems, at least on my first thought, more likely to be a collaborative effort.
If anti-doping is serious about leaning hard on the teams around athletes who enable doping (through provision and protection, and when caught, escape), then this would seem an obvious case to go at hard, rather than just hitting the athlete with an unprecedented one-two punch (which is, of course, also good).
Dubai’s super fast times and painted shoes
The Dubai marathon was at the weekend. And it was super fast, as usual. A course record and world record for a debut at 2:03:34 (Getaneh Molla), and a 2:17:08 for Ruth Chepngetich that moves her to third fastest ever, ahead of the fourth fastest ever for Worknesh Degefa in 2:17:41.
There were massive PBs everywhere – Chepngetich was 90 seconds faster than her previous best, and that was in turn four minutes faster than her previous best from a marathon only 11 weeks ago. Degefa in second was 2 minutes faster than her lifetime best.
The men’s winner was obviously a debutant, and then in second, with a 5:34 improvement on his PB, was Herpassa Negasa in 2:03:40.
It’s hard to know what to attribute these breakthroughs to. There are cynical reasons within easy reach – doping and shoes come to mind. Both undermine the integrity of the result. Doping for obvious reasons, and shoes (as I’ve argued a lot on Twitter, and will eventually get to discussing in depth here on the site) because you can’t attribute a sudden leap in performance to the athlete alone. When shoes are capable of making a bigger difference to runners than the normal margins between them, within one generation, then the entire leaderboard is compromised.
Speaking of the shoes, Negasa is an adidas sponsored athlete who ran in the Nike Vaporfly and just painted them a different colour:
This is awkward! Herpassa Negasa who was a 2:09:14 runner, today runs 2:03:40 for 2nd at the Dubai Marathon. He is wearing an Adidas uniform but wore the Nike Vapourfly 4% painted over. 🤦🏼♂️
Shoes obviously are worth risking it all for! pic.twitter.com/iWUYVXmHe3— Lee Troop 🇦🇺 (@runtroopy) January 25, 2019
Darwiniasm in action. Competition will, eventually, filter out what works and what does not.
One other interesting thing about Dubai, and I’m just thinking out loud here, because this is a short thought, not a research undertaking, is:
“How many super fast (sub-2:06, say) marathons happen in Dubai, but those athletes never reproduce it in any other race?”
My gut says quite a few. Dubai seems to throw up surprise winners, often debutants, in really fast races, but my impression is that you rarely hear of those athletes again. It would be interesting to know how many athletes have run their fastest ever times in Dubai and not come within say, 1:30 of that ever again?
I had a quick glance at the top 100 marathons of all time. 30 have been run in Dubai. For comparison, only 19 were in Berlin (of which 8 are in the top 10), and 14 in London. The 100th fastest marathon is 2:05:19, by the way, so we’re saying that 30 performances under 2:05:19 have happened in Dubai.
But just casting my eye down the list of the names of those athletes, not many leap out as winners of other majors, and few have returned to anything like that level. Maybe it’s too soon, though. Or perhaps it’s just confirmation bias on my part.