FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

The gold and silver medalists from the 2016 Olympic women's marathon have tested positive for EPO, a blood-boosting drug.

By Chris Chavez
May 21, 2019

Olympic silver medalist Eunice Kirwa of Bahrain has been provisionally suspended by the Athletics Integrity Unit after testing positive for EPO, a blood-boosting drug. Kirwa finished second in the women's marathon in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro behind Kenya's Jemima Sumong.

Sumgong is currently serving an eight-year suspension after she tested positive for EPO in 2017. She was initially banned for four years but appealed the suspension and then lied at her doping hearing. An independent arbiter determined she provided false records of a hospital visit to try and justify her failed drug test. Since the positive test came after the Olympics, she will hold onto her gold medal from the 2016 Summer Games but cannot compete again until 2027. She made history with her victory in Rio by becoming the first Kenyan woman to win the Olympic marathon.

Kirwa, 35, crossed the finish line nine seconds behind Sumgong with a time of 2:24:13. She was one of two medalists for Bahrain at the 2016 Olympics. Steeplechaser Ruth Jebet won gold and then tested positive for the same substance, EPO, in March 2018. Jebet was born in Kenya but switched allegiances to compete for Bahrain and then briefly held the 3,000-meter steeplechase world record with an 8:52.78 run at the 2016 Paris Diamond League.

Under the provisional suspension, Kirwa is suspended temporarily from participating in any competition or activity before a final decision on her possible ban is made at a hearing to review the International Association of Athletics Federation's anti-doping rules. A notice of allegation has been issued against Kirwa. She finished sixth at the 2017 IAAF World Championships marathon and has not competed since she won the Macao International Marathon on Dec. 3, 2017. Because Kirwa's positive test appears to come after the Olympics, she will also hold onto her silver medal unless there is evidence of doping prior to Rio.

In April, the AIU announced its partnership with the Abbott World Marathon Majors to fund an intelligence-driven testing program and catch drug cheats at the proper time before performing at the six major marathons. Last month, half marathon world record holder Abraham Kiptum was provisionally suspended for an Athlete Biological Passport violation. The AIU noted that it will look to find trends and ties between drug cheats and people within their inner circle. Kirwa's husband, Joshua Kemei, was Kiptum's coach.

Ethiopia's Mare Dibaba took bronze at the Olympic behind Sumgong and Kirwa. Shalane Flanagan was the top American in Rio and finished in seventh place. After the Olympic marathon, Flanagan told reporters, "Positions can always change" as suspicions were raised about Sumgong's ties to convicted doper Rita Jeptoo.

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