Contributor Perspectives

A Filmmaker's Journey Into the Heart of an Olympic Drug Scandal

Thomas M. Hunt
Board of Contributors
Dec 11, 2017 | 09:00 GMT
Not long after reaching out with a book proposal exposing Russia's state-sponsored drug cheating program, Nikita Kamaev, the former director of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, would be dead.

A picture taken on Oct. 21, 2013, shows Russian Anti-Doping Agency's executive director, Nikita Kamaev, speak during his interview with AFP in Moscow. Russia, for years after the fall of the Soviet Union notorious as one of the world's worst offenders in the fight against doping in sport, is finally making progress to crack down on drug cheats at home ahead of the Winter Olympics.

(VASILY MAXIMOV/AFP/Getty Images)

"Icarus" director Bryan Fogel started his film project with a rather modest ambition: determine whether contemporary measures used to detect drug cheats in amateur athletics were actually effective. He would do this by taking an empirical approach. He planned to use supplemental testosterone and human growth hormone himself, substances that are, with some therapeutic exceptions, banned for use in amateur athletics, as he trained for cycling events. In seeking information regarding the testing protocols that he might face at the competitions he would enter, the filmmaker came into contact with Grigory Rodchenkov, then the head of Russia’s sole accredited anti-doping laboratory. As their collaboration on Fogel's project grew, the two in short order became friends. At this point, however, stories began to break in the news media about the existence of a vast, state-sponsored doping program in Russia. Rodchenkov, it turns out, played a central role in the doping effort,...

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