Russia's Doping Saga Continues
As the 2016 Rio Olympics approach, questions remain about Russian athletes, especially those in track and field. The story began with allegations of systemic doping in Russia as first revealed by the German TV broadcaster ARD in late 2014. The World Anti-doping Agency (WADA) – headed by Canadian Dick Pound – has issued two reports on the subject.
While these two reports focused on track and field, other sports named by ARD included cycling, swimming, weightlifting and winter sports. Meanwhile, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has been retesting samples from the 2012 London Olympics to find positive results in 23 athletes from five sports and six countries from 265 samples. Additionally, 14 Russians from the 2008 Beijing Olympics were found positive during retesting.
ARD'S information comes from Vitaly Stepanov, a former official with the Russian Anti-doping Agency (RUSADA), and from Grigory Rodchenkov, who ran Russia's now-discredited drug-testing lab during the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. Stepanov and his wife, Yuliya, a former track star on the Russian team, exposed the state-sponsored doping prevalent in Russia; this led to the team being suspended from international competition.
Rodchenkov has apparently boasted about making positive doping tests “disappear” and of having developed a cocktail of three anabolic steroids – metenolone, trenbolone and oxandrolone – reportedly used by many top-level Russian athletes leading up to the London Olympics in 2012 and throughout the Sochi Games.
This cocktail – dissolved in either Chivas whisky or Martini vermouth – speeded recovery times, allowing athletes to compete in top form over successive days. Part of the scheme involved breaking into “tamper-proof” self-locking glass bottles made by Swiss company Berlinger, produced for international competitions. The scheme was deemed a success: at Sochi, Russian athletes won 33 medals – including 13 golds.
Now living in exile in the U.S., Rodchenkov also indicates that not all athletes on the “protected” list at Sochi won medals, but one who did is a Nordic ski star, Alexander Legkov, who secured gold in the 50km freestyle event at Sochi 2014.
Many Russian athletes have also tested positive for meldonium (trade name: Mildronate), which is produced by Latvian-based pharmaceutical company Grindeks primarily to treat various cardiovascular complaints. On Jan. 1, 2016, WADA added meldonium to its list of banned substances, but questions remain as to how long traces of this drug remain in the body tests in question.
Vitaly Mutko, the Russian sports minister, confirmed that approximately 40 Russian athletes have recently tested positive for meldonium. Legkov was not one of them, but admitted to taking the drug before it was put on WADA'S banned list. – JS