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How Russia Was Able to Hide Its Sports Doping in Plain Sight

A World Anti-Doping Agency report alleges widespread, widely accepted doping in track and field.
 A woman and a police officer walk in front of the Bolshoy Ice Dome on January 20, 2014, in Alder, Russia. (Photo: Michael Heiman/Getty Images)

 A woman and a police officer walk in front of the Bolshoy Ice Dome on January 20, 2014, in Alder, Russia. (Photo: Michael Heiman/Getty Images)

Last week, the World Anti-Doping Agency issued a report painting Russia’s sports programs as doping machines reminiscent of East Germany’s erstwhile state-sponsored drug programs.

This year we’ve written about the use of prescription drugs to enhance performance and why it’s so hard to catch dopers. But in Russia, there appeared to be no need for ever-more advanced maneuvering to evade positive tests. In Russia, athletes simply needed cash and a culture that rewarded a no-holds-barred drive for champions.

WADA’s independent commission report recommended that Russian track and field athletes be banned from the 2016 Summer Olympics, and suggested lifetime sports bans for five coaches and five track and field athletes—among them the gold and bronze medalists from the women’s 800 meters at the 2012 Olympics. The report contained a litany of cloak-and-dagger offenses that transcend typical doping violations. Among them:

  • Russian secret service agents infiltrated and spied on Moscow’s WADA-accredited laboratory during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
  • A secret, second laboratory in Moscow pre-screened drug testing samples before choosing which to send on to the WADA-accredited lab for official testing.
  • Grigory Rodchenko, head of the WADA-accredited anti-doping lab in Moscow, was involved in the intentional destruction of 1,417 samples before WADA’s independent commission could have them re-tested. The samples were likely from a range of sports, but are now lost forever. Rodchenko, the report said, was also involved in extorting Russian athletes in order to cover up their positive drug tests.
  • Athletes regularly bribed doping control officers.
  • The “Russian State” directly interfered with operations at the anti-doping lab in Moscow and intimidated people who worked there, compromising the lab’s independence.
  • The Russian Anti-Doping Agency failed to follow up on athletes whose samples showed abnormal blood profiles.
  • Russian secret service agents at times interfered with drug testing samples.
  • Athletes who were under active sanctions for doping were sometimes allowed to compete.

Thus far, Russian officials have claimed that the report is unfair and politically motivated. The country is set to host the World Cup in 2018.


This story originally appeared on ProPublica as “How Russia His Its Doping in Plain Sight” and is re-published here under a Creative Commons license.