If Jemima Sumgong is telling the truth, her year went from bad to worse Tuesday when Kenya’s anti-doping agency (ADAK) banned her for four years for using the performance-enhancing drug erythropoietin, a.k.a. EPO, a drug said to increase stamina.
According to a 23-page report released by ADAK on Tuesday, Sumgong, who became the first Kenyan woman to win Olympic gold at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, said she unintentionally took the substance as a treatment for an ectopic pregnancy. Ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg embeds itself in a fallopian tube instead of the uterus. The condition is painful and can be life-threatening.
However, in a report published by Kenya’s Athletics News, the ADAK concluded that “the athlete’s attempt to explain how the substance entered her body bordered on an attempt to deceive the panel.”
ADAK pointed out several inconsistencies in the chain of events Sumgong, 32, described since being notified in April that she had failed an out-of-competition test collected Feb. 28. When first contacted about the results, which were determined by a WADA-accredited lab in Lausanne, Switzerland, Sumgong said the EPO ended up in her system as a result of a Feb. 22 blood transfusion and medication administered at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi. According to ADAK’s report, Sumgong said she did not disclose the treatment ahead of her test because of the “taboo associated with her condition (ectopic pregnancy),” as well as her intention to hide the condition from her husband, who is also her coach.
In a lengthy response in June, however, Kenyatta National Hospital denied Sumgong sought treatment for any condition on or before Feb. 22, and alleged the documents she presented to the panel were “not authentic.” The hospital said, however, that Sumgong sought a consultative appointment with a physician at the facility April 18, but that this could not have been to treat an ectopic pregnancy because she would have been checked into its acute gynecological ward “for at least four days.” The hospital said Sumgong would’ve been discharged with extensive papers recording exact dates of admission, diagnosis, prescribed treatment, medications given, as well as instructions for a follow-up appointment. Sumgong, however, only presented a short note to the panel, signed by what the panel determined was an “impostor.”
Additionally, the hospital said EPO injections are not standard in treating ectopic pregnancies.
“We note with concern that the narrative by [Sumgong] of the events leading to the visitation and treatment at the hospital are inconsistent at best,” ADAK concluded, arguing it was likely Sumgong intentionally used the substance while training for the London Marathon, a race Sumgong won last year.
Sumgong, who avoided a doping suspension in 2012 after appealing to the IAAF, has the right to appeal again, although the athlete did not immediately comment on the ruling.
Sumgong is one of Kenya’s most successful female runners. Along with the Olympics and the London Marathon, she also has won races in Las Vegas and Rotterdam and come in second at the Boston, Chicago and New York City Marathons.
Her four-year ban is being imposed retroactively from April 3, the date her test results came back positive for EPO.