Russian Doping Conspiracy Included Blind Lifters And A Teen

An AP review of email evidence found instructions to falsify test results for a wide range of athletes

Chill — Getty Images
Dec 13, 2016 at 10:59 AM ET

The motive behind the alleged state-sponsored doping program in Russia appears simple. Embarrassed by a poor medal showing in the 2010 Winter Games, the country’s former anti-doping lab director has said there was great urgency to improve the results of the nation’s athletes.

What Richard McLaren’s two World Anti-Doping Agency-commissioned reports have shown is what he calls “immutable facts” about an “institutional conspiracy” helping more than 1,000 Russian athletes in more than 30 sports cheat for at least five years.

While the headlines center on the scope of the apparent fraud and the roughly two-dozen medal winners who were beneficiaries of the drug scheme, the scope of the deceptive doping practices was so pervasive that athletes on the margins—blind weightlifters and a teenage runner—were reportedly aided, too.

Those revelations were unearthed by an Associated Press review of the 1,166 documents McLaren’s team published in a searchable database.

In one email, Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, the aforementioned lab chief, wrote to Alexei Velikodny, an official in the sports training center, to decry doping by five blind powerlifters, implying that they were unaware of what substances they were being given.

“It’s a disgrace,” Rodchenkov wrote. The coaches were “picking on the blind [who] can’t even see what people are giving them.”

The first McLaren Report contained enough information that the International Paralympic Committee chose to ban the entire Russian contingent; IPC president Sir Philip Craven called Russian anti-doping a “broken system” with “complete corruption” of the drug code.

The teenager, just 15 years old, was a promising track and field competitor who apparently tested positive for marijuana use but avoided a suspension when Velikodny ordered the result to be entered as negative. The AP discovered that the athlete was tagged a “Crimean athlete”—this was in May 2015, soon after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, when political sensitivities of potential embarrassment were high.

As the AP noted, “Russian authorities have not disputed the content of the messages,” though they have not confirmed them either.

The pace of the cover-up was apparently relentless and, at times, brazen with Rodchenkov writing about nine failed tests from track and field athletes, “I can’t ignore OBVIOUSLY POSITIVE samples in front of everybody,” noting that only six could be spared but the three with more outlandish results were now “corpses who can’t be brought back to life.” Two months later, Rodchenkov wrote, “get track and field together and give them a final warning. They’ve lost all fear. They should all just be banned already.” (They would be.)

McLaren’s reports are particularly damning for the officials in positions of authority running Russian sport, particularly as it pertains to more vulnerable athlete populations. As bad as it is for the elite to cross boundaries with drug use, it’s altogether another level of institutional negligence and/or corruption to be giving steroids to blind athletes oblivious to what they’re taking.

American hurdler-turned-bobsledder Lolo Jones said it best about the culpability in this scheme.