Report: Russian Olympic Doping Program Was Comically Impressive

Illustration for article titled Report: Russian Olympic Doping Program Was Comically Impressive

For all the very real problems with sports’ war on drugs and the self-serving PED scolds, I can only read this latest report about Russia’s state-run doping efforts at the Sochi Olympic Games with something resembling awe. According to a whistleblower, officials, including those from Russia’s intelligence agency, cooked up a drug cocktail to dope dozens of athletes, then surreptitiously swapped out their urine samples in the dead of night, before they could be tested.


The whistleblower, Grigory Rodchenkov, would know: He was the director of Russia’s anti-doping laboratory.

The New York Times story is nuts: it describes how every night during the Olympics, he and colleagues would sneak into the lab where the samples were held, find the ones that were sure to test positive, and hand them off to a spook who somehow possessed clean urine samples, presumably collected before the Olympics.

Dr. Rodchenkov said that each night, a sports ministry official would send him a list of athletes whose samples needed to be swapped. To match the individual athletes to their anonymous samples — which are coded with a seven-digit number — Dr. Rodchenkov said that athletes snapped pictures of their sample forms, including the code, and texted them to the ministry, offering forbidden insight into whose urine was whose.

After receiving a signal that “the urines were ready,” he changed from his lab coat into a Russian national team sweatshirt and left his fourth-floor office, typically after midnight. He checked that the coast was clear and made his way to Room 124, officially a storage space that he and his team had converted into a shadow laboratory.

There, he said, with the room’s single window blacked out with tape, the switch would be made.

A colleague stationed next door in the sample collection room would retrieve the correct bottles and pass them into the storage room through a circular hole cut through the wall near the floor, Dr. Rodchenkov said. During the day, he said, the hole was concealed by a small imitation-wood cabinet.

The sealed B bottles were handed over to the man Dr. Rodchenkov believed was a Russian intelligence officer, who would take them to an adjacent building. Within hours, Dr. Rodchenkov said, the bottles were returned to the storage room, their caps unlocked.

Rodchenkov says about 100 urine samples were switched over the course of the Games, at least 15 of Russia’s 33 medal-winners among them. Not a single one was ever caught.

Russia handily won the medal count for the 2014 Olympics, meeting a goal set by President Vladimir Putin before the Games.

Rodchenkov fled Russia after a WADA investigation implicated him in even wider state-sponsored doping efforts, and says he fears for his safety: two of his former colleagues recently died under unclear circumstances, within weeks of each other.


The Times report comes on the heels of a 60 Minutes interview with two other whistleblowers, a married couple: He a low-level employee at Russia’s anti-doping agency, she an elite runner. It didn’t take long when they first met for her to tell him how things actually worked.

Fifteen minutes into their first date, he got a dose of reality.

Vitaly Stepanov: “She says, ‘I’m doping. All my teammates are doping as well.’”

Armen Keteyian: “And what do you think?”

Vitaly Stepanov: “I had suspicion but I was hoping that I’m here to fix something. She says that’s not what RUSADA does. RUSADA helps Russian athletes to win medals. RUSADA does testing, but fake testing.”


Your takeaway from these reports is probably, and should be, that Russia is by all accounts the spiritual successor to those classic East German dope factories, which even we drug-loving pinkos think went too far: not for any dreamy conception of pure competition or the Olympic ideal, but because the athletes involved had no choice but to take part in regimens that affected their quality of life.

But there’s another takeaway. Russia allegedly doped with a scheme as simple as walking into the anti-doping lab and pouring out the “sealed” urine samples, and never got caught. Tell me again why we should believe that any anti-doping efforts should be trusted to be effective?


Deputy editor | Deadspin