By Isaack Omulo
ELDORET, Kenya (Reuters) – Disgraced marathon champion Rita Jeptoo has resumed training after serving a four-year doping ban and urged fellow Kenyan athletes to be more vigilant about what goes into their bodies so that they avoid suffering the same fate.
The 38-year-old was initially suspended for two years by Athletics Kenya after she tested positive for the banned blood-booster EPO in 2014.
The ban was subsequently doubled to four years in 2016 after the global governing body of the sport (IAAF) successfully argued that the original punishment was too lenient to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
“I have resumed training. As per the rules, I have undergone mandatory dope testing. I hope to make a full comeback soon,” Jeptoo, whose ban ended in October 2018, told Reuters in an interview in Eldoret, some 350km north west of Kenya’s capital Nairobi.
She said athletes caught in anti-doping violations “are either complicit or very ignorant of the rules of the game”.
“We were naive then and had very little knowledge on matters doping,” she said.
“Athletes must know what medicine they take because they are ultimately responsible for what goes in their body. They cannot blame anybody for their actions and inactions.”
Kenya, a powerhouse in long-distance running, has had a number of athletes banned in recent years after they failed drugs tests.
In 2016 CAS said it was obvious Jeptoo had used EPO “as part of a scheme or plan.”
CAS said the evidence included Jeptoo’s long relationship with her doctor, that her EPO use was “consistent with her competition calendar”.
It added that her conduct was “deceptive and obstructive” throughout the proceedings.
Jeptoo was disqualified from all races she had taken part in since April 17, 2014, including first place finishes at the Boston and Chicago Marathons.
Jeptoo said the presence of EPO in her system was most probably because she was given a drip in a Kenyan hospital after a road accident.
She also said her blood was drawn for “cleaning” then returned back to her body in Italy.
In 2016 her Italian manager, Federico Rosa, had faced accusations in Kenya of administering banned substances to Jeptoo. But the accusations proved to be unfounded when CAS ruled that she hid visits to her doctor from her coach and manager.
She now admits: “I should have known better.”
Rosa cut ties with Jeptoo after she failed the doping test.
Jeptoo lost several lucrative sponsorship deals and a jackpot in one series of competitions.
“I was hurting, hiding my tears for the sake of my son.” she said.
“My manager, my husband disowned me. Athletes called a press conference to disown me. Had it not been for my mental strength, I would have died.”
She blamed “jealous people around me” for her troubles, adding that she has now forgiven her detractors.
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)