In 2014, Rita Jeptoo, a Kenyan woman, was quickly becoming known as one of the best runners of all time. Her career broke out with a win in 2004 in the Stockholm Marathon, and from there she become a dominant force, winning the Boston Marathon three times and setting the course record of 2:18.57. For a long time, she was considered unbeatable. Then, shortly after her Chicago Marathon win in October, she tested positive for EPO, and her status was immediately stripped away. Now, the World Marathon Majors – a yearlong competition comprised of six marathons in major cities – is planning to issue the largest anti-doping effort by any private athletic organization.
The use of performance enhancing drugs is notoriously prevalent in endurance sports – in 2013 the top 8 athletes tested for doping were all runners, cyclists, or swimmers. Athletes like cyclist Lance Armstrong, sprinter Marion Jones, and now Rita Jeptoo, have gone on to win major world titles repeatedly, and when they are caught years later, many feel that it ruins the integrity of the respective sports. History, in a sense, is wiped out, and innocent athletes bear the stress of never knowing who was the best.
The Abbott World Marathon Majors – which includes London, Boston, Berlin, Chicago, New York City, and Tokyo – are partnering with the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) to try and prevent major incidents such as these from occurring again. Testing will be conducted on days very near to the competition, as well as days out of competition testing. Thus, engaging in illegal drugs will be much more difficult to conceal.
When athletes compete in a Marathon Major event, they receive points based on the position they finish (1st 25; 2nd 15; 3rd 10; 4th 5 and 5th 1). Every two years, the athlete’s four highest point values are taken and the winner receives $500,000. The new procedures will include any elite athletes who have earned any points in the last three years, as well as female athletes who have finished in a time under 2:27:00 and male athletes who have finished under 2:11:00. The administration estimates this will amount to about 150 athletes, and if any of them don’t comply, they will not be eligible to receive prize money.
Whether or not this will be an effective screening method will only be made clear with time. However, this is a huge step in the entire world of sports to maintain honest competitions and uphold values of integrity in a time when cheating has become so normalized.