19 Sample Bottles from Seven Paralympic Skiers Tampered With in Sochi

Chelsea LittleDecember 16, 2016
A packed cross country stadium at the 2014 Winter Paralympic Games sprint races.
A packed cross-country stadium for the sprints at the 2014 Winter Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

Anti-doping sample bottles belonging to seven Russian skiers at the 2014 Winter Paralympic Games were tampered with, according to the McLaren report.

Russian cross-country skiers won 12 gold medals, nine silver and 11 bronze at those Games. Some of the same athletes also helped win 12 gold medals, 11 silver and seven bronze in biathlon.

The report, which was commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and undertaken by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren, found that more than 1,000 athletes may have benefitted from tampering by Russian anti-doping authorities: either manipulation of samples, not reporting samples to WADA’s test-result database (ADAMS), or reporting positive tests as if they were negative.

Among the findings were that Russian staff had discovered a way to open anti-doping sample bottles, produced by the German company Berlinger and long assumed to be tamper-proof.

The sample bottle belonging to a Paralympic cross-country skier. (Photo: McLaren report)
The sample bottle belonging to a Paralympic cross-country skier. (Photo: McLaren report)

The finding supported claims made by Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of the Moscow Anti-Doping Laboratory, that at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, he and others had unscrewed the lids of some sample bottles and replaced “dirty” urine with previously collected “clean” urine.

“As the start of the Games approached, Dr. Rodchenkov recalls that he was not confident the bank of clean urine was adequately organised and he asked the [state security service] FSB to see it,” McLaren wrote in his report. “… Dr. Rodchenkov was allowed access to the part of the Command Centre where the samples were stored. The room contained 3 or 4 full size freezer units. Inside were numerous shopping bags labelled with the athlete’s family name and he was advised they were filled with bottles of that athlete’s pre tested clean urine.”

Scratched marks on the same bottle shown above. (Photo: McLaren report)
Scratched marks on the same bottle shown above. (Photo: McLaren report)

Based on those claims, McLaren commissioned an investigation by a British Forensic Firearms and Tool Marks Examiner. His or her (the name is redacted) report, which can be found here, details the normal working of the tamper-proof bottles.

The investigator came to the conclusion that the most likely way to open the bottles was to insert a thin metal or plastic object between the lid and the side of the bottle, and open the bottle from the inside. Depending on what type of material was used for this object and how carefully the bottles were opened, this procedure would leave marks on the bottle and/or lid, in some cases detectable only with a microscope or special lighting.

Almost all of the sample bottles sent to the examiner by McLaren showed these marks. Among them: 19 bottles belonging to seven different IPC cross-country skiers.

Athlete ID Samples Named in Forensic Investigation
A0389 2890467, 2890467
A0469 2892301, 2889197, 2888781, 2890593
A0501 2891821, 2890557, 2889145, 2889128
A0546 2889181, 2890105, 2890786
A0656 2892161, 2891761, 2889127
A0704 2890874
A0705 2890793, 2892237

The sample numbers are also reported in another document in McLaren’s evidence packet, EDP1166. This document is a list of test numbers associated with athlete ID numbers.

“The IP has identified more than 1231 samples where the Moscow Laboratory communicated the presence of a prohibited substance in a Russian athlete’s sample to the [Ministry of Sport] and later reported that sample as negative in ADAMS or did not report the sample at all.”

EDP1166 lists those 1231 samples. In the cases of the Paralympic skiers’ samples, they are associated with the alpha-numeric code of an athlete, but nothing is listed as a substance for which a positive test may have occurred, and the sample is also not listed as being reported as either positive or negative to the ADAMS database.

Because this document was assembled to be a list of samples which were reported to the Ministry of Sport as being positive, it’s not clear what to conclude from this combination of facts.

Other than in the forensic report and this document, neither the samples nor athletes are mentioned anywhere else in the McLaren report’s extensive evidence packet. There’s not even any listing of whether the athletes are male or female.

The lack of a positive test result for any of these samples may be because there was previously-collected clean urine inside them, as described by Rodchenkov. Because no other discussion or information about the samples was found, it may never be known whether the athletes were actually doping or not; if replacing samples with previously collected urine was a policy, it may have been done without even testing to see whether the original samples themselves were clean.

Even without that information, however, this could lead to suspension of the athletes.

“246 athletes can be identified as potentially knowingly participating in manipulation thereby raising the possibility of a violation of WADA Code Article 2.5 (tampering),” McLaren wrote. “Athletes who provided clean urine to the CSP in advance, which was then swapped for a dirty sample, which he or she provided during the Sochi Games, could be in violation of Code Article 2.5.”

In a statement on its website, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) wrote that “The full findings of the report are unprecedented and astonishing.” Russia has been suspended by the IPC since Aug. 7, 2016.

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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