The International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced last week that it had banned Russia’s Olympic team, government officials and its flag from the upcoming 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
The unprecedented action was taken as a result of findings in investigations by the IOC and World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) into Russia’s systemic, government-backed doping program. The penalty, and much background on the investigations and ramifications, are detailed in The New York Times, which broke the story of Russia’s doping program in May 2016.
“The ruling was the final confirmation that the nation was guilty of executing an extensive state-backed doping program,” the Times reported last week. “The scheme was rivaled perhaps only by the notorious program conducted by East Germany throughout the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.”
Both the Times’ original article and the fascinating Netflix documentary “Icarus” feature a detailed first-person account into the Russian system by Grigory Rodchenkov, the scientist who for 10 years served as Russia’s anti-doping lab chief and was instrumental in carrying out a massive cheating scheme and elaborate cover-up at the Sochi Games as the culmination of his lab’s work to assist Russian athletes in their doping protocol up to, and during, the Sochi Games.
Icarus: A Cycling Doping Story Gone Off the Rails
“Icarus,” the award-winning documentary by Bryan Fogel (it won the first-ever Orwell Award at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival) did not start out as documentary about Russia’s systemic doping program. Instead, it was a quest by filmmaker and talented amateur cyclist Fogel to gauge the value of a doping program in his attempt to improve his performance in the ultra-tough Haute Route race – a 7-stage amateur race through the Alps and Pyrenees that is said to be tougher than the Tour de France.
After training and racing strongly in his first attempt, and being as physically wiped out as he could imagine, he wondered how the racers who finished ahead of him could have done so much better. So he sought to attempt to dope his way to improvement the next time out, and to document the process.
In doing so, he eventually hooked up with Grigory Rodchenkov, who agreed to plan and facilitate his doping program, including testing his urine in Russia’s anti-doping lab ahead of his race to ensure no positive tests should Fogel be tested at the Haute Route race.
In the midst of the already fascinating dive into the mundane minutia of following a strict doping protocol – a series of self-administered injections into his thighs and buttocks, bruising and bleeding at the injection sites, the taking of regular urine samples, doctor visits and, oh yeah, a LOT of hard training – Rodchenkov’s life unravels before the cameras as a German media outlet, and then the Times, breaks the stories about the Russian’s doping system, and Rodchenkov’s leading-man role in the sordid affair.
Ironically, even though the doping led to a 100-watt power improvement, Fogel had a series of mechanical issues and simply did not perform as well the second time out as the first. But, serendipitously, he had befriended the man at the epicenter of Russia’s state-sponsored doping program.
So, he shifted gears and focused the rest of the documentary on Rodchenkov, who provided a detailed accounting of his and his lab’s activities through repeated Olympic cycles, up to the massive scam at the Sochi Olympics that eventually proved the undoing of the entire house of cards.
If you have a couple of spare hours over the holidays, you might check out this completely enthralling documentary: https://www.netflix.com/title/80168079.