Breaking: WADA To Launch Major Investigation of Russian Doping Allegations

Chelsea LittleDecember 10, 201421

After a sensational German documentary aired last week alleging widespread state-sponsored doping in Russia, as well as elaborate and financially shady cover-ups, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) released careful statements expressing their dismay for the situation. It initially seemed like the allegations would be investigated only by Russia’s internal anti-doping agency, RUSADA, and by the International Association of Athletics Associations (most of the athletes named in the documentary were track and field stars).

After intense pressure, WADA announced today that they will launch their own full and independent investigation, which will proceed regardless of the pace or scope of IAAF or RUSADA work.

“WADA is the independent anti-doping agency tasked with the mandate of ensuring that the clean athlete is supported in every sport and in every country,” WADA President Sir Craig Reedie said in a press release. “The allegations that have been raised in the German television programs require close scrutiny to determine what actions are required to be taken by WADA and others, to confirm the evidence, seek further evidence, and pursue any anti-doping rule violations or breaches of the International Standards that have allegedly taken place. WADA must ensure that all athletes who have cheated, either at national or international level, are dealt with in an appropriate fashion under the World Anti-Doping Code.”

An English-language transcript of the documentary has been released, which reveals that the systematic doping occurred in far more sports than track and field: cross-country skiing and biathlon were specifically named. A second documentary, so far not translated to English, has implicated additional athletes from other countries. This comes at the same time as a massive cache of documents pertaining to the case of infamous Italian doping doctor Michele Ferrari is being released, including wire taps between Ferrari and David Taschler, a biathlete who is the son of the International Biathlon Union’s Vice President for Sport, Gottlieb Taschler.

North American biathletes and staff have also weighed in on the doping allegations. Kikkan Randall, the U.S. cross-country skier who serves as the athlete representative to the International Ski Federation (FIS), did not respond to a request for comment.

The Allegations

The documentary, made by Hajo Seppelt, aired last week on German channel ARD, but an English-language transcript was only recently made available by WDR. You can read it here.

While we covered some of the most glaring and commonly-discussed messages from the documentary when it came out, the transcript offers more details that are particularly interesting to nordic sports. It also provides a clear picture of the professionality Seppelt brought to his work. The German did not appear to cut corners; he displays videos and plays cell phone recordings in the documentary (which you can watch here) to prove his points. When a source secretly filmed her coach handing her a packet of anabolic steroids, Seppelt had the pills tested at the Cologne, Germany, anti-doping lab and confirmed that they were, in fact, Oxandrolone.

He also sent an employee to investigate just how easy it is to obtain recombinant erythropoetin (EPO, a common blood-doping drug) in Russia. Here’s an excerpt from the transcript:

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 9.06.32 PM

3,925 rubles is about $40 dollars.

While all of Seppelt’s sources come from the world of track and field, they know that doping is more widespread than simply their own sport. Vitaliy Stepanov, who formerly worked in an anti-doping laboratory in Russia and was dismayed and disillusioned by what he saw there, listed these as the sports that are protected, in that they are not tested or positive tests are covered up: “Swimming, Cycling, Biathlon, Athletics, Weight Lifting, Nordic Skiing.”

Besides a much-discussed story in which marathon champion Lyliya Shobukhova, who paid her own federation bribe money in order to suppress a positive test and compete in the 2012 Olympics. Seppelt details the manner in which the financial transaction — worth $600,000 at one point — was carried out using a shell company based at a random address in Singapore.

The question that viewers might be left with is, why haven’t we heard anything about all of this earlier, if it’s so extensive? The documentary gets to that, too. Here’s another excerpt:

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 9.16.44 PMThe two foremost informants for Seppelt’s documentary left Russia before it aired, and plan never to return. They hope to make a new life for themselves and their child in safety.

The Reaction

After days of tense speculation and inside discussion, there is a sense of relief that WADA itself will be tackling the allegations, instead of leaving it to another organization.

“I am really glad to see that WADA is undertaking a full investigation into all the very serious allegations made in the ARD documentary on systematic doping and corruption within the anti-doping effort,” U.S. Biathlon Association President & CEO Max Cobb told FasterSkier. “Biathlon is mentioned in the documentary and less than a month ago IBU suspended another top level athlete for doping. This may be a watershed moment for clean-sport.  WADA is wise to launch a full and independent investigation.

He’s referring to Alexander Loginov, who was busted for using EPO in November when the IBU used a new method to test stored samples from the previous season. At the time, news outlets including this site heralded the development as a smart move. While the new method has not been revealed, it could possibly be the use of “transcriptomics” to test for a signature of changing gene expression in response to EPO, rather than to EPO itself. In development for years, such a test has been hailed as “perfect” because there is no way to hide this biological signature once you have doped.

Among the allegations in the documentary, however, is that Russian athletes are advised to take urine samples when they are not doping, freeze them, and use them to cover their tracks if they are tested and know they will fail. Seppelt also reports that samples are checked before athletes ever leave the country, so that athletes who might test positive at major events never have the chance.

All of this reveals a more sophisticate state-level doping system than had been imagined, and means that even the perfect test might not be able to catch Russian dopers.

When asked about the documentary, U.S. biathlete Lowell Bailey, one of four athlete representatives to the IBU, said that he needed more information before reaching any conclusions. (FasterSkier reached him this weekend at the World Cup in Östersund, Sweden, before the English transcript was released.)

“The most I can say is that I don’t know any of the sources that were cited,” Bailey said. “I don’t know any of the people who were interviewed or how they went about doing it. So I really can’t comment on anything that the documentary involves… Honestly, what we’re focusing on from day to day is what training sessions are like and how we can improve. A lot of this stuff is going on outside of the World Cup. These allegations, I guess you could say, are yet to be confirmed by any reputable source like WADA or the IOC.”

That may be true, Seppelt has been a prescient commentator before. He broke the story of doping in Kenyan distance running back in 2012. Two years later, three-time Boston Marathon winner Rita Jeptoo failed a test for EPO, unleashing a firestorm in the athletics world.

While Bailey couldn’t comment on the documentary, he did weigh on an the suspension dealt to Loginov. In Kontiolahti, Finland, last season, Bailey finished third in a World Cup sprint. Loginov was second.

“For sure, it made me angry that I have worked my whole life to climb up onto that podium, and the guy who is standing there next to me was cheating the whole time,” he said.

Canada’s Nathan Smith place eighth in the same race.

“One of my best races last year, he [Loginov] was on the podium so I guess he robbed me of his spot, right?” Smith asked retorically, reached on Sunday in Östersund. “I would’ve been seventh instead of eighth. But, I don’t know, I mean, you can’t ignore the facts, Russia has so many cases that they still have problems.”

Bailey says that he fully expects to have his result from the race amended to second place. He will also rise in the rankings of last season’s World Cup total score.

But he didn’t get to enjoy second place in the moment.

Still, Smith says, the sport seems to be cleaner than when he first showed up on the World Cup circuit.

“I remember [Maxim] Tchoudov was just blowing everyone out of the water,” Smith said. “I think he was a minute faster than the next guy and in the relay it was like I was standing still. Obviously I’m a lot stronger now, but I think back then, we wouldn’t have even been able to compete with that. He never got caught for anything, but it was definitely questionable, and now I think the Russians in general are a lot more human.”

With Loginov’s test, both Smith and Bailey feel there is evidence that they system is working.

“You can see that in the results,” Smith said. “They don’t have tons of good guys in the top 10, they’ve got like one guy. I think it’s realistic that for the most part their team is probably clean, but I’m not really sure. Definitely with the more stringent testing, you can tell countries like U.S. and Canada, we’re definitely more competitive now. I’d say we have a chance, so it definitely helps our countries, that’s for sure.”

For Bailey, it’s just not worth wasting a lot of time, anger and energy worrying about Russian doping. He has to trust in the system, he explained, and focus on what he can do to be the best – not whether more former competitors might retroactively get disqualified.

“I really focus on what we can control, for ourselves,” Bailey said. “I’m lucky that in the United States we have basically the best team that you can ask for, and every resource that you would need in order to do the best training … I talk with a lot of the athletes on a daily basis, so I can kind of get a feel for what people are thinking. I think at this point, the athletes place a lot of trust in the antidoping agencies and the testing protocol that the IBU has put in place and WADA has put in place, and the various national-testing pools. You have to place your faith in those organizations, and really hope and believe that they are doing their utmost to stay ahead of the dopers. And the rest is just, the day to day preparation for training and racing on the World Cup.”

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Chelsea Little

Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.

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  • sporto

    December 10, 2014 at 6:25 pm

    Will be interesting to watch what commentary emerges from North American nordic federations. It would be somewhat difficult to believe that given the doping in NA cycling (professional, amateur and masters), track and field, speedskating, hockey and university/college football (to name a few) hasn’t been a factor in the nordic community.

  • Tim Kelley

    December 10, 2014 at 8:00 pm

    It’s pretty amusing to read the headline about WADA staging a “major investigation” into Russian doping. That’s kinda like hearing Dean Wormer in “Animal House” put the Delta house frat brothers on “double secret probation”.

    Come on, what can WADA possibly do? This is Russia. Cheating the system is something Russians have had to do for countless generations just to survive. It’s part of their culture. It’s estimated that over 40% of the Russian GDP is Russian Mafia based. So, basically half of the Russian economy is based on cheating.

    WADA versus the Russian Mafia … no contest. It’s a waste of time. Testing Russians at competitions will be as good as you can do.

  • Martin Hall

    December 10, 2014 at 8:28 pm

    Tim—that is best to test them when they come on site—2-3 days before the competition—then you have a chance to catch them—-post competition—they have that all figured out—also, if they hold any trng camps in Europe—again a good testing time to catch them—but of course this is a lot of work for the WADA testers.

  • Strider2

    December 10, 2014 at 8:33 pm

    “This is Russia. Cheating the system is something Russians have had to do for countless generations just to survive. It’s part of their culture.”

    Take it easy with the Russophobia there, pal. It’s not like you were force fed anti-Russia propaganda from birth…. oh wait… you’re a boomer, never mind.

  • Tim Kelley

    December 10, 2014 at 8:57 pm

    Strider, Maybe you should spend a little less time on the web and read some Dostoevsky, Solgenitsin and Tolstory or maybe work alongside Russian emigrants for decades and see if it makes you “force fed anti-Russian”? … oh wait … you’re a tool, never mind.

  • chuckrunkle

    December 10, 2014 at 9:21 pm

    Okay guys listen this has gone on long enough, I know what I am talking about here we’ve been dealing with the ruskies for a while so let me delve into this doping issue. First off Strider, don’t make fun of Mr. Kelley for his ripe old age, he cannot help it. Now, Mr. Kelley, no need to call anyone a tool as we don’t need Topher interjecting and yelling at us while re-posting the proper etiquette rules name calling on the FasterSkier comments. Admittedly, I did get a good laugh. Tool just rolls of the tongue. Props. No clue who Marty Hall is but he is hilarious.

  • midpackskier

    December 10, 2014 at 9:43 pm

    Russians are clean. I train with them all the time. Although the horse meat I had with them on a training camp in Spain tasted a little questionable.

    “No clue who Marty Hall is but he is hilarious.”

    Sorry, what? Like CCC license #1, best eyebrows in North American skiing…

    You do realize you are on a ski news site right?… oh wait… you’re a dummy, never mind.

  • Strider2

    December 10, 2014 at 9:50 pm

    Ouch. Looks like I touched a nerve. I’ve also had the privilege of reading Dostoevsky and Tolstoy and meeting Russian students/expats yet this does not make me an expert on topics such as Russian economics and culture. Unless you have actually lived in Russia or rigorously studied Russian economics/culture, making sweeping generalizations about an entire people – as you did – makes you look like a fool, friend.

  • erikfluoro

    December 10, 2014 at 10:04 pm

    Strider, So one has had to live in Russia to understand they have a history and culture of doping? So I guess you lived there and understand the people and the culture.

    This current report only validates what has been know for years and the Russians even admitted after the Sochi Olympics, that they used XENON gas!

    Mr. Hall was the almost fired from Cross Country Canada in 1988 when he called the Russian out!

    Mr. Kelly lives in Alaska and he can see Russia from there!

    Neither are Russophobes, They are simply calling it like they see it. Of course that is not PC in the US any more.

    Both are credible and

  • Strider2

    December 10, 2014 at 10:25 pm

    re: erikfluoro. You’re misinterpreting my reaction. I would not have replied as I did if Mr. Kelley had kept his remarks to Russian sports, which I agree with. Instead he generalized cheating as being “part of their culture,” and that all Russians “cheat the system.” It’s like watching American reality TV and making the conjecture that all Americans are stupid, a generalization that you would surely object to.

  • hankmoody

    December 11, 2014 at 10:47 am

    This just on the newswire. WADA has announced the hiring of Michael Hayden to investigate these scandalous doping allegations. When asked for comment Mr. Hayden acknowledged his new employment and void to get to the “bottom” of the allegations using any and all means acceptable. He said he has lots of experience getting people to talk. He did acknowledge, however, that the various stress positions and techniques used in his previous engagement may be less effective with highly condition athletes. Nonetheless, he was confident his work would lead to valuable information.

  • highstream

    December 11, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    ” Cheating the system is something Russians have had to do for countless generations just to survive. It’s part of their culture.”

    And cheating is not part of American culture? You do get newspapers and the internet up there in Alaska, eh? But just speaking of doping and its history, Russians don’t have anything to apologize to Americans about.

  • hankmoody

    December 11, 2014 at 5:35 pm

    Yeah Highstream. You tell it Bro. I am surprised Comrade Kelly is opposed to doping. Seems more like a kookie libertarian type to me. Little know fact Lloyd Blankfein uses PEDs. Adderal.

  • teamepokeedsbyn

    December 11, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    Mr. Kelley does not live in AK – rather, like Santy, he is just a winter legend, who skis thousands of km’s a year, bringing joy to the outback, existing on maple sap, bad heavy metal guitar licks, and shitty food form Rosie’s cafe.
    I am pretty confident that US Nordic skiers did/do not dope/blood pack, short of Mr. Lynch (not a team wide program), so yeah, Russian’s, Finn’s, Italian’s (and a few other teams over the years on and off) do need to apologize. These national teams dominated the top 30 from the late 1970’s-mid-2000’s, and the spattering of North American results now is one indicator of the fact that testing is getting better. I believe Mr. Hall got a ton of shit for eluding to this fact in 1988. Keep huffing the X my Red friends, you tools.

  • hankmoody

    December 11, 2014 at 6:37 pm

    Hmm the grapevine says Boris Lynch was not the only doper on the nordic combine team. Good thing the US is so tough on doping. The coach that orchestrated it was never called out and the administrator that funded it got kicked upstairs to USOC. And hey Kerry is fundraising for NNF! Way to go Bro. Oh and let us not forget the lovable Dr. Shiffrin. Yes that Shiffrin.

  • chuckrunkle

    December 11, 2014 at 9:05 pm

    Mr. Moodswing, you seem to be implying that Dr. Shiffrin had something to do with Kerry Lynch’s doping? Interesting, curious to hear more. Maybe, just maybe, the gods at our beloved Fasterskier can do another cutting edge inquiry piece into Mr. Lynch’s doping. It would only seem fair with all this stuff targeting the poor Ruskies. Just make sure they use Walter Malmquist as the facilitator again, that seemed to go just splendid. Lots of admission and hard hitting journalism taking place…

  • erikfluoro

    December 11, 2014 at 9:11 pm


    Those people you mentioned have exonerated themselves through the cult of personality and good deeds. Yet there redemption has everything to do with the cult and nothing to do with coming clean. Apparently there is an aversion in this country for hold people accountable for their actions.

    The most recent example is USAC, where Mr. Johnson was allowed to resign rather than being fired as he should have been. What I often wonder, is how organizations like the USOC, US Ski Team, NNF or any NGB can allow people with such clear ethical breaches to work for and be involved in those organizations. Who says crime does not pay.

  • erikfluoro

    December 11, 2014 at 9:25 pm

    chuckrunkle, who is Walter Malmquist and why is he relevant to this conversation. Are you suggesting he was part of the cover up, or is he just a mouth piece for the Aristocracy.

  • spatz

    December 12, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    Do not think testing is getting better, just N.A.’s are learning from the Europeans (see ProCycling for a good example of N.A. teams/athletes learning from their European counterparts). Testing does not work and is only used by the powers that be to maintain a level of power and control over athletes and others involved. It is in no national federations best interest to have one of its national caliber athletes test positive in any test, and results translate directly into money for everyone involved. The right people here in NorthAmerica have stories but no one at this point is willing to say anything about past performances or the current situation. Personally I just wish it was a level playing field for athletes here trying to make the jump to the elite level, which it isn’t. Believe it should be a personal choice on the methods one uses to attain what you need out of sport. Testing has not stopped the well motivated/supported athletes who need success, but seriously hurt the groups of equally motivated/supported but ethically strapped individuals who believe testing works. This is not to say good things don’t happen but by in large the advantages remain heavily weighted towards the PED user with very little risks of being caught. Interestingly one can now easily buy EPO directly off alibaba mail order direct from Chinese suppliers, so the situation is becoming more difficult to control month by month.

  • hankmoody

    December 12, 2014 at 6:14 pm

    hey spatzyboy let’s here the dirt. Im checking out Alibaba as we speak!! Wahoo. I see a 5% improvement in my naughty performance in the near future.

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