Russian Hackers Suspected Of Track And Field Data Breach

And a German report wondered why some suspicious 2008 samples weren't investigated

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Apr 03, 2017 at 10:39 AM ET

In a wholly expected development that comes with the surprising quality of having taken so long, the world’s governing body for track and field announced on Monday that the Russian hackers Fancy Bears appear to have stolen athlete drug information out of its database.

The Russian doping saga began with a blanket ban for all of the country’s track and field athletes by the IAAF nearly a year prior to the 2016 Summer Olympics, a suspension that remains in place. The McLaren Report prompted a series of targeted re-evaluations of some Russians, which just last week led to four more doping sanctions, including three in track and field.

Many more Russian athletes in other sports have subsequently been kept out of competition, and after the Rio Games, Fancy Bears hacked the World Anti-Doping Agency and published a series of medical records of prominent athletes’ therapeutic use exemptions. Though TUEs allow athletes to legally take otherwise banned drugs, Fancy Bears wanted to show an apparent hypocrisy in the way anti-doping policy is administered. British cyclist Bradley Wiggins, a Tour de France winner with eight Olympic medals, was shown to take corticosteroid triamcinolone for asthma before several key races, for instance, which has generated considerable scrutiny in his home country.

And so, sure enough, the recent IAAF release specified that TUE data since 2012 had been targeted for review, giving “a strong indication of the attackers’ interest and intent.” The Fancy Bears’ website and Twitter account has not yet posted any of the information

“We uncovered this ourselves,” IAAF president Sebastian Coe said, per InsideTheGames. “We were looking at the safety and security of our systems and, unfortunately, during that process we discovered we had been accessed. Unfortunately, this is not the first time. Other organizations have been the subject of this. We abhor that.”

TUEs are vociferously defended by WADA and the International Olympic Committee, although some experts believe they represent an ethical thicket. While those bodies brace for another debate about TUEs in the public forum, they are also on the heels of a report from ARD television in Germany where investigator Hajo Seppelt—whose work blew the lid off the Russian doping scandal in the first place—revealed that “several” unnamed Jamaican sprinters from the 2008 Olympics had trace quantities of clenbuterol, a prohibited substance, in recent re-examinations of the samples, yet those athletes were cleared.

Detlef Thieme, head of Germany’s WADA-accredited lab, told the news program, “It’s hard to imagine that an internationally-prestigious association would still do such a thing today. Suspicious facts and circumstances always have to be confirmed.”

WADA has not pursued cases against some athletes with very minor amounts of clenbuterol because the substance has been found in several countries with contaminated meat supplies. Still, WADA’s founding president, Dick Pound, told ARD that he didn’t believe that protocol had been correctly followed.

“We maintain that disciplinary proceedings against athletes with low level urinary concentrations, from countries known for significant risk of exposure, would have little to no prospect of success; and, would be very unfair to the athletes concerned,”  WADA director general Olivier Niggli said in a statement.

“During the re-analysis of the stored urine samples from the Olympic Games Beijing 2008, the laboratory found in a number of cases of athletes from a number of countries and from a number of different sports, very low levels of clenbuterol,” the IOC added in its own statement. “The IOC carefully deliberated whether or not to proceed with these cases. In particular, the IOC consulted with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) who was fully involved in the decision-making process. All of the values were below 1ng/ml and therefore in the range of potential meat contamination cases.”

The athletes whose samples are in question were not identified.