The national Olympic body on Thursday withheld decision on naturalizing a Kenyan-born marathon runner with a doping history, citing the need to review his application further.
The Korean Olympic Committee (KOC) said it will need additional information from the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) regarding Wilson Loyanae Erupe and his positive doping test from 2012.
Kang Rae-hyeok, head of the KOC’s legal affairs team, said the KOC needs to ensure Erupe, who is hoping to acquire a South Korean passport and represent the country at a future Olympics, accidentally took a banned substance for legitimate medical treatment.
Once the KOC gives Erupe the green light, his application will reach the Justice Ministry for the final review.
Erupe, 27, joined an athletics club run by the Cheongyang County Office in South Chungcheong Province last summer. He has won five races in South Korea, including Gyeongju International Marathon last October. His personal best time is 2:05:37, nearly two minutes faster than the South Korean record of 2:07:20, set by former Olympic silver medalist Lee Bong-ju in 2000.
Erupe, however, failed an out-of-competition doping test in 2012 and received a two-year ban from the International Association of Athletics Federations in early 2013. He has claimed he was getting treated for malaria, though Kenya’s national athletics federation didn’t recognize his therapeutic use at the time.
Erupe faces another administrative hurdle in South Korea for his doping history. Under the KOC rules, an athlete who has served a doping ban is ineligible for any national team for three years following the end of the suspension. It would rule out Erupe for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio even if he’s fast-tracked to South Korean citizenship.
However, Kang said the KOC will need to consider the fact that the KOC rule was instituted in July 2014, after Erupe’s positive test.
Erupe, who has adopted a Korean name, “Oh Joo-han,” which is translated as “I run for Korea,” told reporters he’d love to help develop South Korean marathon further.
“I’ve won all five marathons I’ve run in South Korea, and I’ve fallen in love with the people’s integrity here,” he said. “Once I become naturalized, I will respect and honor the Korean tradition. I’d like to play a role where I can motivate younger athletes.”
Erupe said even if he can’t become a Korean citizen, he won’t try to obtain the passport of another country.
“I can always try later (to get South Korean citizenship),” he said. “My life will go on, and I will accept whatever decision is reached.”