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Rigging Elections is Small Time for Russia

David Yon, December 12, 2016

I often think, “If I can just bury my head a little deeper in the sand it will all go away.”   No, I am not talking about the elections of 2016.  I am talking about one of my favorite passions – the summer Olympics, and most deeply track and field.  I refuse to turn my back on all of the wonderful things I have watched over the years.   After all, Joan Benoit Samuelson overcame knee surgery to win the gold in Los Angeles in 1984 in the very first time women were allowed to compete in the marathon at the Olympics. There are so many great stories since and before.  And yes, didn’t Jessie Owens stand tall enough to stare Hitler down?

But eating away at all the virtues of the sport are those who systematically break the rules.  For the longest period of time, the East German doping machine reigned as the most sophisticated and successful (if measured by medals and size of the country) program to be made public.  A Newsweek article in June of 2014 reported that between 1964 and 1988, this country of less than 17 million citizens won 454 medals during the summer Olympics alone. The Soviet Union of that era most likely was not far behind with its doping program, but there has never been the same kind of public outing of the Soviets.

Until now.  A Russia being remade in the image of Vladimir Putin has implemented a doping scheme that almost makes Lance Armstrong seem sympathetic. A series of scathing reports from the World Anti-Doping Agency (“WADA”) led to more than 100 Russian athletes being banned from the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, including Russia’s entire track and field team.  Many athletes have already lost medals that had be fraudulently “won” and most likely that number will grow considerably.  Nevertheless (and not surprisingly), Russian officials denied the allegations and much of the world’s oversight bodies for various sports remained slow to react.  A debate raged over whether to ban all Russian athletes or only those individually caught violating the rules. 

As a result, Richard H. McLaren prepared a comprehensive follow up report for WADA that was released earlier this month (December).  Among other things, the report concluded that “Over 1000 Russian athletes competing in summer, winter and Paralympic sports, can be identified as being involved in or benefiting from manipulations to conceal positive doping tests. Based on the information reported to International Federations through the IP to WADA there are 600 (84%) summer athletes and 95 (16%) winter athletes. 

In another finding (number 4) McLaren states:

The key findings of the 1st Report remain unchanged. The forensic testing, which is based on immutable facts, is conclusive. The evidence does not depend on verbal testimony to draw a conclusion. Rather, it tests the physical evidence and a conclusion is drawn from those results. The results of the forensic and laboratory analysis initiated by the IP establish that the conspiracy was perpetrated between 2011 and 2015.

Finding number 3 was James Bond “cloak and dagger.”

The swapping of Russian athletes’ urine samples further confirmed in this 2nd Report as occurring at Sochi, did not stop at the close of the Winter Olympics. The sample swapping technique used at Sochi became a regular monthly practice of the Moscow Laboratory in dealing with elite summer and winter athletes. Further DNA and salt testing confirms the technique, while others relied on DPM (Disappearing Positive Methodology).

Grigory Rodchenkov, the former anti-doping laboratory director in Moscow, provided testimony to the investigators and described how the ruse was accomplished.  He told investigators that each night a sports official sent him a list of athletes whose samples needed to be swapped, including a photo of their doping control form. There was a special room (124) where Rodchenkov would go. The room, officially identified as storage space, had been converted it into a laboratory.

The secret room was next to the official sample collection room where the bottles of urine were kept. A colleague in the collection room would pass the urine samples through a hole in the wall near the floor. The openings were covered with white plastic caps and a cabinet during the day.

In Room 124, Dr. Rodchenkov received the sealed bottles through the hole and handed them to a man who he believed was a Russian intelligence officer. The man took the bottles to a building nearby. Within a few hours, the bottles were returned with the caps loose and unbroken. Dr. Rodchenkov’s team emptied and cleaned the bottles with filter paper and filled them with untainted urine collected from the athletes months before the Olympics. Table salt or water was added to balance out some of the inconsistencies.

The good news is that relative to other doping schemes this one was uncovered fast.  And while a late medal means athletes missed out on the feeling that winning in competition brings, a late medal is better than no medal.  It is a great thing that officials can reach back into the past for sanctions.

Ok, so I don’t know what all that might have to do with Russians and others hacking computers here in the US and doing so in a way that is favorable to one candidate over another.  But I do know this: Truth and fair play are not virtues high on the lists of those running Russian sports programs.