NAIROBI, Kenya (AFP) — Kenya has banned three marathon runners for doping offences, including the first case of an athlete using the banned blood booster EPO, the country's national athletics body said on Thursday.
Wilson Loyanae Erupe, who won the 2012 Seoul marathon in a course record, and Nixon Kiplagat were each suspended for two years while Moses Kiptoo Kurgat received a one-year ban, Athletics Kenya (AK) said.
Erupe, 24, tested positive for EPO, or erythropoietin, in an out-of-competition test conducted last year, making him the first Kenyan athlete to be caught using the banned drug hormone which increases the red blood cell count.
Kiplagat, 26, tested positive for the anabolic steroid Nandrolone, after competing in a race in Mexico.
Charges were dropped against a fourth runner, Francis Kibiwott, who represented Kenya at the 2007 World Half Marathon in Udine, Italy, finishing 45th.
The suspensions come amid an increased focus on distance-running powerhouse Kenya's high-altitude training camps and claims that the use of performance-enhancing drugs was rife among athletes, who are feted as national heroes.
A German television report last year implicated Kenyan athletes in doping, prompting the government to set up an independent commission earlier this month to look into the claims.
The task force is expected to present its findings and make recommendations to the national Olympic committee within the month.
Athletics officials in the east African country have long denied that any of its athletes use illegal drugs but the former 3,000m steeplechase world record holder Moses Kiptanui last week poured cold water on those claims.
"The information shows that there are a good number of athletes out there who are using drugs," the three-time world steeplechase champion and Olympic silver medallist told BBC radio in an interview.
"They want to get money by all means. Either by a genuine way or another way. We have put rules in place. If we don't use these rules then athletes will still use these drugs."
AK officials hit back, accusing Kiptanui of making "malicious claims which may destroy the careers of upcoming athletes" and maintained that he should have raised his concerns with them first.
But Kiptanui has been supported by several former athletes, albeit anonymously, who said doping was a deep-seated problem and may affect many Kenyan athletes.
On the latest suspensions, AK secretary David Okeyo said: "These cases were brought to us by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF world governing body).
"We took the right step by suspending them first, pending investigations," he told AFP. "The athletes' A and B samples returned positive results for the banned substance abuse."
Okeyo, however, said the bans did not mean Kenya had a full-blown doping problem.
"We have nothing to hide," he said. "As soon as we establish any athlete has doped, we shall expose them."