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The Rodchenkov Affair by Dr Grigory Rodchenkov

  • 30/08/2020 2:47:00 PM
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The Rodchenkov Affair by Dr Grigory Rodchenkov

Dr Grigory Rodchenkov was the Director of the Moscow Anti-Doping Centre from about 2005-2016, and also ran the 2014 Socchi Winter Olympics Anti-Doping Testing Laboratory.  In essence, during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Rodchenkov and his laboratory and secret police colleagues were able to swap samples they had previously obtained from athletes of clean urine, for anti-doping samples taken after races at the Olympics, knowing the post-race samples would contain banned substances, often various steroids or stimulants.  They had drilled a hole in the laboratory wall where testing took place so they could pass the ‘dirty’ samples to an awaiting police colleague in an adjoining room, who then opened the supposedly anti-tamper seals on the sample, then swapped it undetected for the athlete’s clean urine.  As a result, numerous gold and other Russian medallists were not identified, and Russia’s medal tally rose from 3 gold (5 silver & 7 bronze) finishing 11th overall at Vancouver 2010, its worst result, to topping the medal table at Socchi with 11 gold (9 silver and 9 bronze).     

Rodchenkov explains the lengths that he and his team went to in order to constantly over many years substitute ‘dirty’ urine for ‘clean’ samples, and doctoring of doping control forms and other information and data provided to WADA and the IOC, including as part of various international anti-doping investigations that started in around 2013.  He was prosecuted, jailed, and hospitalised in a psychiatric facility during some of the period he served as Director of the Anti-Doping Centre (2011-12), partly due to running a business selling banned drugs to athletes in competition with high level bureaucrats, politicians and business persons who did not want competition.  

However, for decades, the expectation was that the Russian athletes would win events and medals all over the world, and Dr Rodchenkov’s job was to ensure that they never tested positive, or that positive test results were never known outside Russia.  There was also an expectation that athletes were taught to taper and cease their use of banned substances so they would not be detected ‘in competition’.

However, we now know that this did not work for the London 2012 Olympics, as many Russian track and filed athletes, whose samples had been preserved, have since been banned once the testing (and retesting) technology showed they had competed with prohibited substances in their bodies.   President Vladimir Putin knew what was going on, endorsed it, and supported the widespread cheating program, and successful athletes were handsomely rewarded with government financial support, better apartments, and preferential treatment.  

For his sins, Dr Rodchenkov fled Russia in 2015 to Los Angeles and has been in hiding ever since, having achieved the position of being in the top five most wanted persons list for the Russian government and police.  He left his wife and children behind in Russia.  He is not safe in the USA despite great security efforts to protect him with a new identity, and regular changes of residence.  Of course, Putin has denied the allegations, and we know the 2016 McLaren Report into the Socchi Olympics and Russian Anti-Doping Laboratories accepted Rodchenkov’s evidence, and Russia has since been banned from the 2016 Rio, 2018 Pyeongchang Winter and 2020 Tokyo Olympics.  The Russian Anti-Doping Laboratory and other accreditations appear doomed for at least another two years.  

Rodchenkov himself was a good mid-distance runner who used steroids and other banned drugs.  He was well placed to implement the state-sponsored cheating scheme that was followed.  It is breathtaking how unashamedly the Russian government, supported by its Moscow Anti-Doping Centre and RUSADA (its national anti-doping authority) was to win at international sport, to cheat at whatever the cost whilst vehemently denying wrongdoing.  This has all the hallmarks of Lance Armstrong’s denials when regularly confronted as a doper, yet blatantly lying and aggressively howling down his naysayers.  I hope Rodchenkov - who has had an act of US parliament on doping named after him -  can find some peace and not be looking over his shoulder the rest of his life.  His story is a courageous expose, and the sports and anti-doping world is the better for it.  State sponsored doping schemes are not new – just ask Raelene Boyle (sprinting, 1972, Munich, West Germany) and Lisa Curry-Kenny (swimming, Moscow 1980), both denied Olympic medals to East German cheats, and swimmers from China were muscled up, suddenly winning and regularly testing positive to banned substances in the 90’s.  

Dr Rodchenkov also appeared in the Netflix Oscar winning film “Icarus”, in which a mid-tier cyclist (and journalist) was advised by Dr Rodchenkov on amounts of banned steroids to use, and when to use them so as to avoid detection.  It was an experiment on the effectiveness of illegal doping, and how to get away with it, or avoid being caught.