Athletics: Kenyan men's runner-up in Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon banned for failing dope test

Kenyan Felix Kiptoo Kirwa, runner-up in the Men's Open field in Singapore last year, tested positive for strychnine and the Athletics Integrity Unit has banned him for nine months, until Nov 14, 2019.
Kenyan Felix Kiptoo Kirwa, runner-up in the Men's Open field in Singapore last year, tested positive for strychnine and the Athletics Integrity Unit has banned him for nine months, until Nov 14, 2019.ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - A second medal winner at last year's Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon (SCSM) has been caught and banned for failing a drug test.

Kenyan Felix Kiptoo Kirwa, runner-up in the Men's Open field in Singapore last year, tested positive for strychnine and the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) has banned him for nine months, until Nov 14, 2019.

The 23-year-old has also been disqualified from his second-place finish, suffering the same fate as Lim Baoying, the winner of the Local Women's category, who last month was banned for nearly four years after failing a post-race dope test.

He will also be made to forfeit his US$25,000 (S$34,159) prize money from SCSM or appearance fees as well as any other entitlements earned between Dec 9 and Feb 14, the day he accepted his sanction from the AIU.

According to an AIU press release issued on June 11, Kirwa, who also won the Singapore Marathon in 2016, claimed that he had consumed a herbal medicine product to treat arthritis. He "provided the AIU with a copy of a medical file documenting his use of herbal medicine products including 'Arthritis Care' and 'Goodcare Arthplus' to treat arthritis prior to the Event," it said.

Both products contain strychnos nuxvomica, which contains strychnine, it added, but strychnine itself is not listed on either product. Strychnine is perhaps better known as an ingredient in rat poison. However, it is on the anti-doping list because it is a stimulant.

The AIU noted that the presence of strychnine in the sample was consistent with the athlete's ingestion of the named herbal medicine product. It said that it is "satisfied based on the athlete's explanation and supporting medical evidence that the athlete used the herbal medicine products for therapeutic reasons".

Kirwa had tested positive following the in-competition drug test in Singapore. A World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) accredited laboratory in New Delhi reported the "adverse analytical finding" on Feb 4. He was alerted to the results on Feb 8 and was offered a chance to provide a second urine sample.

According to the AIU, he declined to do so and accepted the provisional suspension on Feb 14. A day later, he provided the AIU with a detailed account of his use of the herbal medicine products in the build-up to the race.

The AIU also explained that it had banned him for only nine months, instead of the mandatory two years, because it had taken into account "the athlete's relative age, inexperience and (the fact) that the prohibited substance did not expressly appear on the herbal medicine product labels". It had concluded that "a search of the ingredients given on the product label of the herbal medicine (Sudh Kuchla/Strychnos nuxvomica) against the Wada 2018 Prohibited List would not have identified a prohibited substance".

The news of the ban is another blow for the Kirwa family. On May 21, his sister Eunice, the silver medallist at the 2016 Olympics in the marathon, was provisionally suspended after returning a positive test for the banned blood-booster erythropoietin (EPO).

Last month, Lim, 37, was banned for three years and nine months by the AIU after testing positive for modafinil following the Dec 9 race. According to an AIU statement on May 15, the doctor had ingested "a quarter of one tablet of modafinil 200mg" before the race "in order that she could stay awake".

She did not have therapeutic usage exemption for the medicine, which is on the Wada Prohibited List and prescribed to people with sleep disorders to help them stay alert or improve focus.

National marathoner Rachel See, who was second on the day, was later declared the winner of the race.

When contacted, a joint statement by race organiser Ironman Asia and the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon issued on Thursday (June 13) said: "Ironman and the SCSM remains committed to clean sport and each announcement of an anti-doping rule violation serves as an important reminder that all SCSM athletes are subject to the rules of the IAAF, the AIU Anti-Doping Program, and to testing. All athletes are responsible for the choices they make when it comes to nutrition and medications taken."

Another Kenyan, Andrew Kimtai, who finished third in the Dec 9 race, has been promoted to second. Cosmas Matolo Muteti, also a Kenyan, is now third.