How the cheaters got away with it

I am a follower of international cycling and have therefore been introduced to the subject of doping in sport by recent revelations and discoveries. It’s a regrettable practice, against the rules and had cost lives. The best book I have read about the implications of doping in cycling is The Death of Marco Pantani by Matt Rendell which is very clear about some of what went on and what happened to one of the biggest names in the sport.

The Rodchenkov Affair by Grigory Rodchenkov is the inside story of the Russian doping regime in sport and especially what happened at the Olympic Games. Rodchenkov has moved to the USA and is not welcome back in Russia after his revelations but for many years he reaped the rewards of organising and running a state sponsored, industrial scale, cheating programme.

The author was a promising athlete who wasn’t quite good enough for international competition and who joined the anti-doping agency in Russia as a chemist. He soon became involved in hiding the evidence of rampant doping among athletes. He excused his activities on the grounds that athletes from everywhere were doing the same thing and also that he had no option in the oppressive regime of his homeland. He also appears to have the opinion that doping is nowhere near as unsafe as it is reported to be. I can’t comment on these reasons for his career as a cheat but I have to say that his position didn’t really convince me – I think he didn’t have any qualms about what he did when it was to his advantage and that his current protestations are produced to fit the position in which he currently finds himself. I think that he would have probably been happy to continue in his illicit career had not the Russian authorities decided to use him as the scapegoat when their activities became widely known.

Ignoring the fact that I didn’t really like or believe the author, the stories he tells of the way that doping happened and how it was covered up are mindboggling (the international anti-doping organisations don’t come out of this narrative very well). It culminates in the Sochi Winter Olympics where the facility that the author and his colleagues used was designed and built to allow them to switch samples to hide the cheating of the Russian athletes. There are tales of swapping bottles, substituting samples, consuming substances that would deceive the testers, and programmes designed to ensure that athletes were not caught. Rodchenkov was at the centre of this in Russia and he appears to be proud of some of what he has done and of how so much was not uncovered at the time.

Of course we don’t know what other countries were doing at the same time and it is exceedingly unlikely that they were all innocent (a truth we have learned from the history of doping in cycling). This book and its revelations will certainly taint the memory of some performances for you and perhaps open your eyes to possible wrongdoing. I found the activities fascinating and the book was eye-opening. If you follow sport you may well find that it changes your view of what you thought had happened.

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