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Five Intriguing Revelations From WADA's Report On Russian Doping

  • RFE/RL

The WADA report implicates Russia's deputy sports minister, Yury Nagornykh, as being the main decider of whether to hide positive results from outside scrutiny. (file photo)

The WADA report implicates Russia's deputy sports minister, Yury Nagornykh, as being the main decider of whether to hide positive results from outside scrutiny. (file photo)

One could be forgiven for reading the newly released report from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) on Russian state-sponsored doping and thinking it was a James Bond thriller or a John le Carre spy novel.

With code words, hidden holes in laboratories, and undercover surveillance agents, the narrative of Russian government involvement in the effort to bring home a record haul of gold medals at the 2014 Sochi Olympics -- not to mention several other international competitions -- makes for a compelling read.

Even before the release of the WADA report, officials in Moscow tried to dodge, feint, weave, deny, and even, in some cases, apologize for the doping.

At the very least, the evidence is a litany of damning accusations. At the very worst, it rises to the legal standard required for criminal trials to convict a suspect: "beyond a reasonable doubt," the term that Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren used in authoring the report.

Here's a look at five of the report's most intriguing conclusions:

Disappearing Positive Methodology

While the Sochi Games were the main focus of the investigation, Russian officials had created an entire system to disguise tainted urine samples for selected athletes, a system called Disappearing Positive Methodology. From at least late 2011 until August 2015, the system utilized an official facility called the Moscow Laboratory. The process basically involved identifying athletes who would likely test positive under neutral, international procedures, collecting "clean" samples that could be swapped out, and making false entries into official databases.

Variations on the system were used in earlier competitions, including the 2012 London Olympics, the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow, and the 2013 World University Games in the Russian city of Kazan.

The report implicates Russia's deputy sports minister, Yury Nagornykh, as being the main decider of whether to hide positive results from outside scrutiny.

You Call An FSB Plumber?

The Sochi Games presented new challenges for the Disappearing Positive Methodology system, given a larger presence of neutral observers for doping protocols. McLaren's report found extensive Russian involvement not only of officials at the ministerial and federation levels, but also agents from the Federal Security Service (FSB), the main successor agency to the Soviet KGB.

In Sochi, one agent in particular, identified as Blokhin, was intimately involved in overseeing the laboratory and testing procedures at the facility. Blokhin, the report found, had access to an operations room, a sleeping room, and the testing laboratory "as an accredited person under the cover of being a sewage and plumbing employee of the building service maintenance contractor, Bilfinger." He also wore a Bilfinger uniform when visiting the laboratory.

"The FSB was intricately entwined in the scheme to allow Russian athletes to compete while dirty," the report concludes.

Grigory Rodchenkov

Grigory Rodchenkov

Microscopic Analysis

In Sochi, officials devised an elaborate scheme to swap out urine samples from Russian athletes suspected of doping with clean urine. This was detailed publicly for the first time in May by the former director of Russia's anti-doping laboratory, Grigory Rodchenkov.

The process was complicated by the use of glass laboratory sampling bottles, which were equipped with special anti-tampering tops that would indicate if the bottles had been opened by anyone outside of official testing labs.

But FSB officials allegedly figured out a way to circumvent the tamper-proof tops, and international doping monitors didn't detect the altered bottles until well after the Sochi Games ended.

The McLaren report, however, describes how its investigators figured out how to use microscopic analysis to detect scratches and marks on unused bottles with tamper-proof tops, corroborating Rodchenkov's earlier, public remarks.

Rodchenkov also described how officials cut a hole in the Sochi laboratory testing room so that samples could be swapped out without attracting the attention of video surveillance cameras.

Salt And Urine

In his earlier public comments, Rodchenkov revealed how dirty urine samples in Sochi were not only swapped out for clean ones, but also how laboratory workers sought to manipulate the chemistry of the samples to ensure they matched up with otherwise-normal biological results. In some cases, salt was added to the urine.

After randomly selecting bottles that may have been tampered with, McLaren's investigators, using an outside laboratory and neutral observers, retested some of the samples taken from Russian athletes in Sochi. In several of the samples, they found salt that was well in excess of what the human body produces, suggesting it had been added later. Two of those samples belonged to Russian athletes who won medals at Sochi.

The laboratory also compared a series of four samples that had ostensibly been provided by a single Russian athlete: three during the Sochi Games, and one later in 2014. DNA analysis showed the sample taken outside Sochi did not match the other three, indicating that clean urine from another athlete had been used to swap out dirty urine from the implicated athlete.

Mutko And The Foreign Footballer

While the focus of McLaren's investigators was on the doping system set up for the Sochi Games in 2014, they also turned up a "foreign footballer," or soccer player, whose data appeared in the laboratory recording system. The athlete, who played in Russia's top professional soccer league and was not identified by name in the report, had his urine sample labeled "save." This meant it came up positive for the presence of banned performance-enhancing drugs but would be labeled as a negative, and recorded in official databases.

Typically, the investigators said, the decision to issue a "save" order for an athlete came from Nagornykh, the deputy Russian sports minister. In the case of the soccer player, the report found, the order to shield the urine sample was made by the country's sport minister himself, Vitaly Mutko, who also happens to be president of the Russian Football Association.

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