ELDORET, Kenya (Reuters) - Kenya's top runners have urged athletics fans and sports enthusiasts across the world to keep faith in them, despite media allegations of widespread doping in the east African nation famed for its top-class runners.
Britain's Sunday Times newspaper and German broadcaster ARD/WDR said they were given access to the results of more than 12,000 blood tests showing more than 800 athletes had given blood samples that were "highly suggestive" of doping or "abnormal". Of those 800-plus, reports suggest 77 were Kenyan athletes.
According to the Sunday Times, 18 of Kenya's Olympic and world-championships medals between 2001 and 2012 were won by athletes with suspicious blood-test results.
On Saturday ARD/WDR aired a documentary in which a hidden camera purportedly showed Kenyan athletes being injected with performance-enhancing drugs. ARD also alleged corruption among Kenyan officials who it said wanted to cover up the doping.
Wilson Kipsang, former marathon world-record holder, said the media allegations had cast aspersions on Kenya's entire running community rather than singling out the small minority who might have cheated.
"I want to tell the whole world that for the top (Kenyan) athletes who have been running, tests have been carried out and they have been found clean," said Kipsang, a two-time London and Frankfurt Marathon winner who also won bronze at the London Olympics in 2012.
Dozens of Kenyans have failed drugs tests in the last two years but only Rita Jeptoo, winner of the Boston and Chicago marathons, could be categorized as a top-level runner. Others have mostly been lesser-known athletes.
Kipsang said Kenya needed to do much more to tackle doping but pointed out that the current allegations came from the media rather than a "trusted" source, such as the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
"If they generalize (about) all the athletes, the image of the Kenya athlete will not be in a good position," added Emmanuel Mutai, winner of the 2011 London Marathon.
"It will damage the image of the Kenyan athletes who are clean in sports."
Kenya boasts some of the world's best middle and long distance runners but over the past few years claims of widespread doping have grown louder. Athletics Kenya dismissed the latest allegations as a smear campaign.
Eliud Kipchoge, winner of the 2015 London Marathon, endorsed Mutai's point and backed his training partners to have built their success on hard work rather than performance-enhancing drugs.
"Those athletes whom I know and those who are near me, my thinking is that they are doing a great job," said Kipchoge. "They are clean."
Reporting by Drazen Jorgic, editing by Neville Dalton