Track coach Jama Aden has been arrested after police raided his hotel room outside Barcelona and found traces of EPO and other banned substances, according to the Associated Press.
Aden coaches a group of very high level middle and long distance runners, including 1500 meter world record holder Genzebe Dibaba, 2014 indoor 1500 world champion Ayanleh Souleiman, 800 meter star Abubaker Kaki, and until recently, 2012 Olympic gold medalist Taoufik Makhloufi. Most of the athletes in Aden’s group are from Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, or Djibouti. The group trains in Spain part of the year.
According to AP: “Police confirmed Aden and his trainer [an unnamed Moroccan] were under arrest on charges of administering and distributing doping substances and endangering public health. After questioning by law enforcement, both detainees should face prosecution within 72 hours.”
The article indicates officials from the International Association of Athletics Federations also detained and tested 30 of the athletes who were staying at the hotel. Providing and distributing drugs being a crime in Spain, police there usually target the network that enables doping, leaving the IAAF to deal with individual athletes. It appears police and track officials worked jointly on this raid.
In 2015, two of Aden’s athletes, Laila Traby of France and Hamza Driouch of Qatar, were suspended for doping violations.
By far, the most provocative player in this scene is Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba, the odds-on favorite to win gold in the women’s 1500 meters in Rio. At this point, the records she’s routinely trampling—at 1500 meters, 3000, and 5000— are her own. She currently holds the outdoor 1500 world record, and the indoor 1500, mile, 3000, and 5000 meter world records.
In July 2015 Dibaba, the youngest of three world champion sisters, not only bested her own personal record at 1500 meters by an astronomical four seconds (at that level, improvements usually come in tenths or hundredths of a second), but she also broke a 22-year-old world record set by Chinese runner Qu Yunxia that was widely seen as both dirty and unattainable, about which I wrote at the time:
For one thing, Yunxia’s turtle soup-and-fungus-assisted record from 1993 has been in the same impossible category as Paula Radcliffe’s 2:15 marathon—so far out that, to the benefit of the sport, women have been racing each other for the win or for a personal best rather than even considering a world record. Omitting Dibaba’s 3:54 and 3:50 performances—both run in the last month—the top thirteen 1500 performances of all time were posted by Ma’s Army, the crop of Chinese women raised by now-discredited coach Ma Junren in 1993 and 1997, and a Russian and a Romanian in the 1980s.
So with her 3:50.07, Dibaba deftly hopped over more than 30 years of running and 12 hiiiiiiiiighly suspicious performances from programs that either were busted for doping or operated prior to drug testing.
In 2010, Dibaba posted a very good but not great 4:06.10 in the 1500, and improved by .20 of a second in 2011. Then in 2012, she went ballistic, shaving more than eight seconds from her time to post a world class 3:57.77. She bettered that slightly in 2013, but ended 2014 with only a 4:01.00, set in August of that year. In February of 2015, the indoor season, she focused on 3000 and 5000 meters, and came outdoors swinging in the 1500, popping a 3:54 1500 in June (good for tenth best all-time), and a month later, the unbelievable, never-in-this-lifetime 3:50.07.
But she wasn’t done. This past February, she ran a world record indoor mile at 4:13.31, and toddled on to an indoor world championship gold at 3000 meters, running 8:47 and change. A month prior to that, in February, she’d posted an eye-watering 8:22 3000 meters at a meet in Spain.
Oddly, the red-hot runner has pulled out of every outdoor race she was scheduled to run this year—Dubai, Bislett, Prefontaine Classic, and Shanghai—citing various injuries. Only six weeks out from the Olympics, Dibaba has yet to race outdoors.
Coincidentally, in April of this year, at the beginning of the outdoor season, the World Anti-Doping Agency apparently thought to check in on the anti-doping program in Ethiopia and were shocked to discover it was deplorable. They rated it a zero. The Ethiopian government seemed prepared, probably because neighboring Kenya has been on the hot seat for more than a year, and declared they had set aside $300,000 for testing, and would start doing so immediately. It’s uncertain whether Jama Aden and his group of athletes were in Ethiopia at the time or not.
Intriguing questions abound with Aden’s arrest: If the coach is convicted, how does this affect athletes in the group? What is the result of the IAAF’s testing of Aden’s 30 athletes? Along with the ban on Russian track and field athletes from Olympic competition, does this unprecedentedly aggressive move (IAAF raiding a training camp along with police) signal real appetite to crack down on doping?
Less than a year ago, president of the IAAF Seb Coe blasted German journalists for hating on track and field by uncovering systematic state-sponsored Russian doping, and up until this very incident, the IAAF has dragged their feet on any real action. They were shamed into upholding the Russian Olympic ban by the outing of the most absurd violations.
But this? Cooperating with police on the front lines of a bust of, not a few hapless B-level individuals, but the coach and probably the thickest concentration of world record holders and world champions competing now? Holy cattle prod! What’s got into those normally lethargic folks at the IAAF?