It is the first time that a whole country has been absent from the Olympics due to a doping scandal. The country is Russia. The conclusions of the investigation of the Russian case, leaked documents of the East German Stasi, an analysis of historical results and the one-week-old case of top-level cross-country skiers show how many athletes take drugs and how much better they are than those who don’t.
American cyclist Lance Armstrong and British sprinter Dwain Chambers admitted under pressure what illegal substances they used to take. Before you start reading, you can make their cocktails by clicking on their faces. The other icons show specific performance enhancers; by clicking on them you will find out what they can do – both good and bad.
“It goes all the way back to 1968. There never was anti-doping controls in Russia. Period. Ever.”
“Across all summer sports?”
The first voice is Grigory Rodchenkov, the former director of the anti-doping laboratory in Moscow. The second is American film director Bryan Fogel. This extract comes from the one-year-old Oscar-nominated film documentary Icarus, in which Rodchenkov, one of the architects of the Russian doping programme and the creator of the anabolic cocktail, reveals the state-controlled doping after his escape to the United States. His allegations go all the way to ex-Minister of Sport, Vitaly Mutko, and President Vladimir Putin.
The suspicion of Russian institutions being involved in doping was expressed earlier – in the German ARD television documentary How Russia Makes Its Winners, broadcast in December 2014. In the 1970s and 80s doping was an open secret in the Eastern Bloc, headed by East Germany and the Soviet Union. However, in 2014 the news that the Russians had returned to their old practices seemed exaggerated to most viewers.
State doping’s second wind
In spite of that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) started investigating. It appointed a committee headed by Canadian Professor Richard McLaren. It was to discover who had known about doping and who had managed it.
The investigators gathered part of the evidence in the Russian city of Sochi, where the Winter Olympics took place in 2014. In new detailed tests of the Russian athletes’ biological samples a surprise awaited them: in two female hockey players’ urine they found male DNA. The sample of another Russian female Olympian, whose name we don’t know but we know she was a medallist, contained genetic information of two different women.
Besides genetic nonsense the investigators also discovered, under the microscope, that the bottles containing the samples had been mechanically damaged. These bottles are designed to be tamperproof and cannot be opened without the assistance of anti-doping commissioners but Rodchenkov in his testimonies describes how FSB agents at the Sochi Olympics opened them on a daily basis, swapping the samples for “clean” ones. Apart from that the investigators got access to leaked emails which led them to approximately a thousand top athletes involved in the doping programme.
“The Ministry of Sport directed, controlled and oversaw the manipulation of athletes‘ analytical results or sample swapping, with the active participation and assistance of the FSB, CSP [Centre of Sport Preparation], and both Moscow and Sochi Laboratories,” say the conclusion of the 2016 McLaren Report.
In spite of that the Russians were not absent from the Summer Olympics in Rio (2016) because according to the International Olympic Committee there simply wasn’t enough direct evidence.
They only lost their patience recently. Shortly before last year’s Christmas, as a result of their own investigation, they decided to exclude the Russian representation from the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang. Therefore, the Russian representation is not in Korea but most Russians who have been preparing to compete will be taking part in the event under a neutral Olympic flag. 159 Russian athletes will be participating, which is only twenty fewer than eight years ago in Vancouver.
How many centimetres can anabolics add?
How much of an advantage the doped-up athletes have in comparison with the clean ones and whether the latter have any chance of beating them is very difficult to determine. Because doping is prohibited and in many countries also illegal, there are only very few reliable studies available.
As a result, the best sources from which we can get the idea of the effectiveness of doping are the testimonies from those times when in some sports and in some countries almost everybody took drugs. These times were the 1970s and especially the 1980s, when Eastern athletes used anabolic steroids on a large scale, and doping tests were always introduced with a delay of several years.
Anabolics, such as the male hormone testosterone, enhance muscle development and speed up regeneration. Therefore, they enable higher training loads and positive feedback of increase in power. They have a particularly strong effect on the female organism, in which the level of testosterone is naturally higher than in men. However, the price paid for bigger power is the development of secondary male sexual characteristics, both visible, such as a lower-pitched voice or hair growth, and the less obvious but more dangerous ones, such as serious kidney and liver diseases or the development of cancer.
The positive effects of anabolics were shown especially in strength sports, such as the shot put, discus and hammer throw, but also in short- and middle-distance running. On the other hand, anabolics have never been very popular with long-distance runners because large muscles are more of a hindrance to them. Endurance can be enhanced by substances discovered later, e.g. erythropoietin, which is infamous due to its use in cycling.
Therefore, the data on the best performances in the individual years in strength sports illustrate the influence of anabolics on the athlete’s performance very well.
The following graphs show two sets of data: the dots represent world records, while continuous lines represent the world’s best performances in the given year. The red values between 1948 and 1991 refer to athletes from the Eastern Bloc, while the black ones refer to other countries.