At long last, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has published its full decision explaining its reasons for disqualifying Russian cross-country skier Alexander Legkov from the 2014 Olympics and banning him from all future Games.
In it: a description of how a second laboratory independently confirmed a finding from the McLaren Report that two of Legkov’s urine sample bottles from Sochi had been tampered with.
The decision also reveals that Grigory Rodchenkov, the former Moscow anti-doping laboratory director who in truth managed a covert doping program before turning whistleblower, personally tested Legkov’s urine as part of a “washout scheme” to see how quickly drugs disappeared from his body.
Rodchenkov also said that he swapped out the urine sample collected after Legkov won a gold medal in the 50 k for a previously-collected clean sample.
The decision was published alongside disqualifications of five more athletes, including biathletes Olga Vilukhina and Yana Romanova. The two biathletes have long been identified as being part of the Russian doping scandal in at the 2014 Olympics, but since they both retired following those Games their cases have not particularly remained in the news.
However, Vilukhina won silver in the 7.5 k sprint, and this finding means that Ukraine’s Vita Semerenko stands to be upgraded from bronze to silver and Karin Oberhofer of Italy would become the new bronze medalist.
Vilukhina also finished seventh in the 10 k pursuit, 21st in the 15 k mass start, and contributed to Russia’s silver medal in the women’s relay, along with Romanova. That means that the Norwegian team of Fanny Horn Birkeland, Tiril Eckhoff, Ann Kristin Flatland, and Tora Berger would move from bronze to silver, and the Czech Republic’s Eva Puskarcikova, Gabriela Koukalova, Jitka Landova, and Veronica Vitkova should earn bronze.
Legkov has been anything but out of the news. He was targeting a comeback for the 2018 Olympics after sitting out last year with a provisional doping suspension. Legkov and five other skiers had been cleared to return to competition by the International Ski Federation (FIS) despite their IOC bans, with FIS saying that they had to read the IOC decisions in full before taking any action.
During that time, Evgeniy Belov finished sixth in the 15 k classic at the World Cup in Ruka, Finland, on Saturday, and 12th overall in the weekend-long minitour; Maxim Vylegzhanin was 16th in the classic and 20th overall; and Evgenia Shapovalova finished seventh in the women’s sprint and 54th in the minitour overall.
Alexey Petukhov did not compete on the World Cup and the last of the six athletes, Julia Ivanova, has retired.
Legkov did not compete on the World Cup either. Coach Marcus Cramer told Norwegian media outlet VG that after having his gold medal from the Olympic 50 k stripped, Legkov has become depressed and lost five kilograms.
It remains to be seen what FIS will do with the Legkov decision, and when the IOC will publish decisions for the other Russian skiers. All or none of those athletes may be back on the starting line in when the World Cup moves to Lillehammer, Norway, this coming weekend.
In the meantime, here are some key parts of the decision, which you can read in full here.
What proof is needed:
The panel noted that before the 2016 Summer Olympics, the IOC did not ban all Russian athletes but instead shifted the burden onto the athletes to prove that they were clean: “…. the IOC considered that the revelations of Prof. McLaren were so serious and so far-reaching that it was justified to establish a presumption that all top-level Russian athletes had been part of that system and that only the athletes who could rebut such a presumption would be accepted at the Games.”
The IOC panel did not want to do this for winter sports athletes, instead considering individual cases. But they also noted that finding proof of doping would not require a positive drug test, because by nature this scandal is about covering up positive tests and thus that evidence would have been destroyed.
“The evidence of a cover-up is typically either witness evidence or circumstantial evidence from which the application of the process can be inferred,” they wrote. “For the purpose of anti-doping proceedings, CAS jurisprudence has defined a specific standard, defined as ‘comfortable satisfaction of the hearing panel bearing in mind the seriousness of the allegation which has been made’,” they wrote.
Further down in the document, the panel noted that the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS, mentioned above, and the Supreme Court equivalent in sports law) has already signaled that it would accept circumstantial evidence.
In another decision, CAS had written that “the combination and different type of facts provided by the Second [McLaren] IP report with respect to any individual athlete are circumstantial evidence that can be used to establish an [anti-doping rule violation.”
The Panel Trusts the McLaren Report, and Rodchenkov
While the panel did commission some of its own forensic analyses of urine sample bottles, it also relied on evidence gathered by Professor Richard McLaren for an Independent Person Report almost a year ago.
“The global evidence obtained by Prof. McLaren is very strong with regard to the existence of the scheme,” the panel wrote. “It allows a conclusion about the existence and implementation of the scheme in Sochi (and well beyond Sochi), which Prof. McLaren describes as ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. The Disciplinary Commission can only agree with that conclusion.”
“The relevance of the elements related to individual athletes has to be considered from a different perspective,” the panel wrote, before concluding that “Prof. McLaren’s credibility is unquestionable.” His evidence would be used as part of a case against athletes, although not the only evidence.
The panel also said that they trusted Grigory Rodchenkov, the former Moscow lab director who became a whistleblower. He has been the victim of character assassination by Russian interests, but the panel did not buy it.
“Dr. Rodchenkov was the main actor in the system and he is the best placed person to explain what it was,” they noted. “Dr. Rodchenkov is no longer in Russia and he is under the protection of the FBI. Therefore he is now free to speak openly…. His statements are very precise and clear. They are also very consistent and there are no contradictions between the various elements he describes… Every time other evidence has been available, the information provided by Dr. Rodchenkov has been systematically corroborated by such evidence.”
The Panel’s Own Forensic Analysis
The IOC commissioned a forensic analysis of urine sample bottles, to be done at the University of Lausanne. The McLaren Report had already done this task using a respected lab in London, but the panel called the Lausanne analysis “a more complete and thorough forensic analysis.”
It took Professor Christophe Champod, the leader of the analysis, two months to discover how sample bottles could be opened and closed. Like the London lab, he examined sample bottles for marks that would indicate that they had been opened using the method he had discovered – and he found bottles with these typical marks on them. Reportedly, examining each of the 232 sample bottles and 30 control bottles he was given took over an hour.
The panel was deliberate in emphasizing repeatedly how carefully Champod had done this work – perhaps because they had been criticized for allowing this aspect of the process to take so long and allow a situation where the provisional suspensions of Russian skiers were lifted by FIS.
“Prof. Champod appeared to be very knowledgeable and very cautious at the same time,” the panel wrote. “When not sure, he never hesitated to admit that he had no certainty. This gave a lot of credibility to the positions of which he claimed to be certain.”
As with the sample bottles the IOC also commissioned a “complete and thorough” investigation of salt levels in the sample bottles, another task which had also been done by the McLaren report. This analysis was done at the Lausanne University Hospital. The professor investigating the urine samples found that a number of samples had salt concentrations “definitively out of range and even out of renal physiological possibilities suggesting strongly a manipulation of the samples for example the addition of sodium chloride.”
Bad News About That
Overall, the panel had come to the conclusion that the sample manipulation and cover-up scheme existed, and that the only way for it to do so was for athletes to be involved. After all, the clean urine samples had to be obtained from somewhere.
“The Disciplinary Commission came to the conclusion that it was not possible that the athletes were not fully implicated… the scheme could not work without the personal implication of the athletes.”
Thus, if the athlete was mentioned in planning documents (called the “Duchess List” and the “Medals By Day List”), they more or less must have been in on the scheme, the panel wrote.
Legkov was on the Duchess List, and moreover, two of his sample bottles showed marks of being tampered with. These where the types of bottles that Prof. Champod was “certain” about.
Furthermore, in a written affidavit, Rodchenkov discussed Legkov specifically, saying that he had at some point checked urine samples provided by Legkov to make sure that the drugs had disappeared, or “washed out”. Washout tests are used to see how long drugs stay in an athlete’s body. This enables planned doping programs and ensures that athletes will not test positive if they are tested by a foreign antidoping agency. Such tests are prohibited by anti-doping rules.
Rodchenkov also said that he had discussed how Legkov was responding to the drugs he had been given – the answer was, he was responding well – and also that he had personally swapped the athletes urine samples in Sochi on the night after Legkov won his gold medal. The relevant sample, collected after that race, was one of the two sample bottles which showed marks consistent with tampering.
“Based on the above elements, the Disciplinary Commission has no hesitation to conclude that it is more than comfortably satisfied that the athlete was a participant in, and a beneficiary of, the cover up scheme implemented on the occasion of the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014.”
What Legkov Provided As Evidence
Legkov and his lawyer submitted affadavits from Elena Valbe, the president of the Russian Cross-Country Ski Federation, as well as from his coaches and team staff, stating that nobody knew he was providing clean urine for the sample-swapping scheme.
He also listed all of the anti-doping tests he had undergone, but the panel was not convinced.
“As regards the allegation that the athlete could not have used the Duchess Cocktail because of the intensity of testing he was subject to, the Disciplinary Commission remarks that the history of doping is full of highly controlled athletes, who never tested positive, until they finally had to admit that they had been doping over a long period of time,” the panel wrote.
And, Legkov pointed out contradictions and seeming errors in some of the McLaren Report evidence. Again, the panel did not agree with Legkov’s assertions.
“The Athlete has sought to challenge each individual piece of evidence, but when all the pieces match and comfort each other, no doubt is possible.”
A Bizarre Squabble Over DNA
Legkov and his lawyer wanted the samples assumed to be his, to be DNA tested to make sure that his urine was inside them. This was mistakenly assumed to have been done in the McLaren Report, but it turned out that only some of the Sochi samples had been analyzed in this way. Thus, late in the hearing process, Legkov requested that the IOC get a DNA sample from him, and see if the urine samples matched.
The implication was that if they did not match, then he would not have been the one providing the “clean urine” to swap out, and thus would not be implicated in the scheme.
This led, however, to a game of chicken. Legkov was training in Italy at the time. The IOC requested he come to Lausanne to have the DNA sample collected. Legkov insisted that the IOC come to Italy. The IOC offered to have a car sent to Italy to pick him up, bring him to Lausanne, and then return him, saying that it was necessary to come to Switzerland “for the collection of a reference sample under adequate conditions to avoid the risk of contamination by foreign DNA.”
In the end, no agreement could be reached, and Legkov’s DNA was never collected or matched to the urine in the sample bottles.
The IOC did not see this as a barrier to their conclusions: for the subset of samples which had been DNA-tested in the McLaren Report, all those belonging to athletes on the Duchess List turned out to match the DNA in the sample bottles.
For two female hockey players, DNA did not match. But the reasoning by the investigators was that these athletes were not on the Duchess List and had been added into the doping scheme at the last minute, so they took the drugs but had not provided clean urine and thus their samples had to be swapped out with someone else’s urine.
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.