London Marathon ‘very concerned’ by doping claims

London Marathon organizers complained about the lack of transparency and coordination in the handling of anti-doping tests following claims by a British Sunday newspaper that the race was won seven times over a 12-year period by athletes who recorded suspicious blood scores.

In the latest allegations of widespread doping in track and field, The Sunday Times newspaper reported that almost 30 percent of winners in the 24 men’s and women’s London races are suspected of cheating.

It also said that one in four winners of the six biggest city marathons around the world “had given blood tests that suggest they may have doped to improve their performance over time.”

The suspected athletes were not named, and race organizers said they have never been informed of abnormal anti-doping test results at their event “between 2001 and 2012, or subsequently.”

“We continue to be at the forefront of anti-doping measures for marathon runners as we are determined to make marathon running a safe haven from doping but we cannot do it all on our own and rely heavily on the IAAF,” said London Marathon chief executive Nick Bitel in a statement Sunday. “We are therefore very concerned by the allegations (…) and we will be discussing the implications of the allegations with the IAAF.”

Bitel added that the London Marathon pays for the testing of athletes but does not administer the tests. This is done by the UK Anti Doping Agency (UKAD), Bitel said.

The statement also said organizers would seek repayment of prize money from athletes who fail doping tests.

In an interview with BBC Radio Five, Bitel rued the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF)’s “failure to take effective action.”

“The IAAF needs to do more to stop people from starting (a race) that have blood values that are out of normal range,” he said. “What is concerning is that we’re never told these results even though we’re paying tens of thousands of pounds to get these athletes tested.”

Athletics was thrown into turmoil last week when German broadcaster ARD and The Sunday Times newspaper alleged that blood doping was rampant, citing test results from an IAAF database that were leaked by a whistleblower.

The World Anti-Doping Agency has since set up a commission to investigate the allegation that IAAF files showed 800 suspicious results in blood samples from 5,000 athletes in the years from 2001-12. The results were analyzed by antidoping experts Michael Ashenden and Robin Parisotto.

According to The Sunday Times, the winners of 34 of the major marathons across the world, who collected more than 3 million pounds ($4.65 million) in prize money, registered suspicious results suggesting potential blood doping. The newspaper reported that London and Chicago marathon organizers blamed IAAF and their respective national anti-doping agencies for not letting them know that some athletes “were competing with blood so heavily doped that it threatened their health.”

The newspaper said that eight British athletes including double Olympic champion Mo Farah have decided to publish their blood data to prove they are clean. According to The Sunday Times, a total of 20 of Farah’s blood test results from June 2005 to May 2012 on the IAAF’s database did not show anomalies.

“I’ve always said that I’m happy to do what it takes to prove I’m a clean athlete,” said Farah, whose coach Alberto Salazar has been targeted by doping allegations.

UKAD chief executive Nicole Sapstead defended her organization’s biological passport system while insisting on her duty to protect the athletes’ right to privacy.

“UK Anti-Doping advises any athlete that it is their choice as to whether to share personal medical information, which has been collected during the anti-doping process,” she said. “UKAD will never disclose or discuss individual athlete data or personal information.”

Earlier this week, former Russian marathoner Liliya Shobukhova’s doping ban was extended by 14 months to March 2016 by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Shobukhova’s two-year suspension by the Russian athletics federation was to end in January, but the IAAF appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, citing “aggravating circumstances.”

She was originally guilty of abnormal biological passport values. The Sunday Times claimed that she “recorded extreme blood scores for nine years before action was finally taken against her. Two of her scores had a billion-to-one chance of being natural.”

CAS extended her ban, and ratified the initial agreement to disqualify all of her results from Oct. 9, 2009, including wins in the 2009, 2010 and 2011 Chicago marathons, and a 2010 win and 2011 second place in the London Marathon. Those results helped her to the major marathon series titles in 2010 and 2012.

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