Russia’s doping cover-up went far beyond the Olympics, according to a vast archive of emails released by a World Anti-Doping Agency investigator.
Besides the 12 medal winners from the 2014 Winter Olympics whose samples were supposedly tampered with, messages show a system which covered up drug use by blind athletes and children as young as 15.
In 2015, a year after the Olympics, Russia’s top doping scientist, Grigory Rodchenkov, complained that the scheme Richard McLaren termed the “disappearing positive methodology” had grown so large it was covering for doping and apparent abuse of power in disabled sports.
Five blind athletes in powerlifting, a form of weightlifting aimed at disabled people, had tested positive for the banned steroid methandienone at the same training camp. Rodchenkov suspected unscrupulous coaches eager for medals were doping blind athletes without their knowledge.
“It’s a disgrace,” Rodchenkov wrote to Alexei Velikodny of Russian state’s Sports Training Center. The coaches were “picking on the blind (who) can’t even see what people are giving them.”
A year earlier, the records show Velikodny issuing a “save” order for a 15-year-old competitor in track and field — the instruction which meant a failed test was reported as negative.
The young athlete — one of the most promising juniors in Russia at the time — was flagged up as a “Crimean athlete” in the emails, a distinction which may have helped him avoid a ban after testing positive for marijuana. It was May 2015, two months after Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, and a failed test at one of the first competitions in Russia featuring Crimeans could have been embarrassing.
McLaren’s report alleges more than 1,000 Russian athletes benefited from a cover-up scheme administered by government officials and Rodchenkov, the Moscow lab director who later fled Russia and turned his emails over to WADA. Following criticism that his intermediate report in July lacked evidence to back up its claims, McLaren’s full investigation is accompanied by a website containing thousands of pages of documents including years of emails, charts listing hundreds of suppressed tests and copious photographs of urine sample bottles with telltale scratches that McLaren says indicate they were tampered with.
None of the writers of the emails responded to requests for comment. However, the Russian authorities have not disputed the content of the messages. Some of the authors have been suspended from their jobs, as was then-Deputy Sports Minister Yuri Nagornykh, who was placed on leave in the summer and resigned in October.
The emails show a deeply corrupt system, with lab staff worried about their industrial-scale doping cover-up being exposed while they faced pressure from ambitious officials to “save” more top Russian athletes from doping scandals. Even Rodchenkov struggled to keep pace with the sheer scale of Russian doping.