The results of an unusual study were released last week at a major conference.
The World Anti-Doping Agency had Kenyan runners living and training at high altitude take the blood booster EPO. They then compared the results with a group of Scottish runners at sea level.
Their findings were presented at the American College of Sports Medicine’s annual meeting. What they found wasn’t terribly shocking.
The 20 Kenyans, who were based in Eldoret (2400m elevation), were given EPO regularly for a four week period. Their 19 Scottish counterparts at sea level did the same.
Each runner did a 3K time trail before and after the four week doping phase. Both groups saw the same result: a 5% gain in performance.
The one difference between the Kenyan and the Scottish groups were in their blood values. The Kenyans did show higher hemoglobin and hematocrit levels. These are indicators of the quality and capacity of the blood. Nevertheless, the study shows that Kenyans react in very much the same way that their sea level competitors do when taking EPO.
One then has to wonder why this study was even performed. The reason for that may be because the running community has been embroiled in a heated debate about the possibility that doping is rampant in East Africa. Also, one of the most influential figures in distance running, coach Renato Canova, has repeatedly and very publicly argued that EPO is ineffective on Kenyan athletes.
WADA is now hoping that they will be able to implement a plan to more aggressively test East African athletes, particularly out of competition. There is a plan in place to set up a testing facility in Eldoret, which could reveal whether or not doping is indeed a significant problem in the Rift Valley region.