Nairobi - Kenya's athletics bosses came in for fierce criticism on Saturday after it emerged Rita Jeptoo, currently the world's leading female marathon runner, tested positive in an out-of-competition anti-doping test.
A senior Athletics Kenya official, vice president Jackson Tuwei, has revealed to AFP that Jeptoo's 'A' sample had contained traces of the blood-boosting drug EPO, the same blood-boosting drug used by Lance Armstrong to cheat his way to seven Tour de France wins.
The revelation has stunned Kenya, whose naturally gifted distance runners are a major source of national pride, but has also left Athletics Kenya bosses facing renewed allegations of having ignored a worsening problem.
"If Kenya wants to win back, or at least buffer the loss of trust that is inevitable as a result of the Jeptoo test, then it must immediately and without delay open the system up to independent international scrutiny," wrote Ross Tucker, a prominent South African sports scientist.
"That means naming the coaches, agents and support systems of Jeptoo, and fully exposing this particular problem," said Tucker, who runs the influential sportsscientists.com website.
Jeptoo, a three-times winner of the Boston marathon and a two-time champion in Chicago, is also the biggest name in Kenyan athletics ever to have been tested positive.
World Marathon Majors (WMM) organisers also said they were postponing the awarding of this year's $500 000 prize to 33-year-old Jeptoo. She had been due to attend the New York marathon on Sunday to collect the prize, the biggest payout in distance running.
Her last win, in Chicago in October, came weeks after the urine test was carried out - and secured her overall win of the WMM series, which includes marathons in Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, New York and Tokyo.
"The credibility of Kenya is at stake," admitted Barnaba Korir, Athletics Kenya Nairobi branch chairperson and Jeptoo's former manager.
He said Athletics Kenya, and especially its veteran president Isaiah Kiplagat, "has not been able to handle the seriousness of the doping issue and have been taking it too lightly."
"It was just a matter of time before a top athlete was found out and Jeptoo's case has confirmed these fears. They cannot sweep things under the carpet," he said.
According to Athletics Kenya, Jeptoo has denied ever taking performance-enhancing drugs. He 'B' sample has yet to be tested.
Kenya has been under pressure from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to take action over doping after a string of positive test in recent years.
But a report from an independent task-force released this year did not uncover any evidence of the use of the drugs among top athletes, and insisted that "the few reported cases were aided and abetted by professional doctors, managers and agents."
Kenyan anti-doping task force chairperson, Moni Wekesa, continued to blame dishonest foreign agents and doctors for Jeptoo's positive test.
"It did not come as a surprise at all. In our investigation we stated clearly that our athletes are managed by foreign agents. It is these agents who are giving the athletes these drugs," he said.
"Athletics Kenya must put its house in order."
Tucker, however, said blaming outsiders is an "utterly and totally useless" and "irrelevant as a defence against doping."
"The reality is that it doesn't matter how the problem arrived. It's there now, and it's your athletes who are using it," he said, saying it was now up to Kenya to "change the game or let it slide into the abyss of cynicism that is international sport."