A Deeply Rooted Culture of Cheating
November 10, 2015 7:55 AM   Subscribe

The World Anti-Doping Agency, which monitors the fight against performance-enhancing drugs in sports, has released its 323-page report detailing the endemic use of PEDs in Russia, enabled and encouraged by the Russian government via the Ministry of Sport and the Federal Security Service.

Allegations include intimidation of drug-testing lab workers, impersonation of lab workers during the Olympic Games in Sochi last year, bribery, and routine impersonation of PED users by people with clean urine. Russian officials call the report a "political hit job", "groundless", and "absolute rubbish".

The report recommends tighter supervision by WADA over RUSADA (the Russian anti-doping agency), the firing of various coaches and anti-doping supervisors and bureaucrats, and stripping Olympic and other championship medals from several specific Russian athletes.
posted by Etrigan (29 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
"I envision a cheating wing."
—Crow T. Robot
posted by non canadian guy at 8:07 AM on November 10, 2015


Part of the report has not been released, because it pertains to alleged corruption at the IAAF (the international body for athletics). The former president of IAAF has been arrested by French authorities; apparently he received money in exchange for turning a blind eye.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:14 AM on November 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


At long last, all those jokes from the 1970s about drug-enhanced East German athletes can be brought out from their protective, nitrogen-filled freezer capsules and used again!

(Get your raw material here and simply `sed 's/East Germany/Russia/'` for instant updates: PBS show transcript, cite, cite, 2004 cite, and 1991 cite.)
posted by wenestvedt at 8:23 AM on November 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


It's been a few days since I've put on my surprised face. Oh, there it is in the corner, I'll put it on now.
posted by Melismata at 8:25 AM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Obligatory scene from Top Secret: The East German Women's Olympic Team
posted by Ber at 8:27 AM on November 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


Heh, they poked fun of this on The Simpsons too. "And with the East German (laugh) women shaving their backs, the Americans are heavy favorites." Then I think they show some weightlifters or something having their arms fall off.
posted by Melismata at 8:42 AM on November 10, 2015


Stopping to make the usual drive-by jokes about eastern-bloc steroid enhancements is kinda dated and boring.

The value of the report is its details, not the obviousness of its abstract. I hope the investigation extends to other countries' programs too.
posted by ardgedee at 8:47 AM on November 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


To repost an idea I had on another site:

I just thought of a solution: make laboratory testing an Olympic event.

Each nation sends a team to compete in a shared Lab Stadium, like in Iron Chef. They're all given samples of the same "mystery" athlete's blood, which they have a limited amount of time to examine. Whoever can accurately state (within some given ppm range) what substance and how much the athlete doped with, wins!
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 9:02 AM on November 10, 2015 [7 favorites]


*rubs hands*

And it ain't gonna be just the Russkies. What else is coming down the track?
posted by GallonOfAlan at 9:08 AM on November 10, 2015


Honestly, I've reached the "deeply rooted culture of not giving a shit." High level athletics has and will never be clean and testing methods will always be playing catch up with doping techniques, so dope away, y'all.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:10 AM on November 10, 2015


Oh, ardgedee, I totally agree that it's not a laughing matter for the individual athlete's health, nor for the nation as a whole. (Well, not exclusively a laughing matter: there's not much I won't laugh at, but some things also get treated seriously.)

The fact that we have seen this all done before for National Prestige, and also seen that it was pretty useless for the East Germans, is disheartening. And when you think how Putin sucked so damn much money out of the economy for that indulgence in Sochi, expanding the scale of the futile impact to a whole country, it really makes me worry whether there is anything that guy won't do.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:10 AM on November 10, 2015


Good commentary and links from sportsscientists.com - Ross Tucker and The Science of Running - Steve Magness. From the last article: It's NOT just Russia. People are going to try to use Russia as a scapegoat. It's much easier. Don't be surprised if the IAAF or any organization under attack singles out Russia and claims that they were a rogue nation.
posted by blub at 9:36 AM on November 10, 2015


When I was a teenager, I competed in flat-water canoeing, a sport that was dominated by the Eastern Bloc. Canoe/kayak isn't a particularly prestige set of events, not like, say, track and field, but it does have a substantial number of medals. When medal counts were political, it was one of those events that must have seemed like easy pickings to communist ministers of sport.

In the Olympic style, canoe/kayak are flat-out sprints, at distances of 1000 m or less, amounting to no more than a few minutes on the water. The mostly East German and Hungarian women and men who dominated the medals were massively muscled, like most sprinters. This was back in the 1980s when targeted training and recovery regimes were still fairly primitive (by today's standards). Drug regimes, even for the Canadian athletes I knew were commonplace, at least as restoratives. As one said to me, the common thing was simply to keep ahead of the tests in terms of generations of drugs they were using.

There were several profiles of those German and Hungarian athletes in the 1990s, after the walls fell and the political climates changed. Most had some sort of osteo-arthritis damage. Many, women and men, had fertility problems. Quite a few died of organ failure and later odd cancers. Away from the limelight, in countries with sometimes less than adequate health care, these people paid the price.

Russia, I'm sure, has generations of these athlete-cripples hidden away. Conveniently for the propaganda ministries, however, they don't have great life expediencies either.
posted by bonehead at 9:49 AM on November 10, 2015 [7 favorites]


Yes, please, can we not turn this into “East German women, amirite?” Some of us have enjoyed Olympic sports, and the ideals and spectacle of the Olympics, even as they are increasingly tarnished and commercialized.

This doesn’t relate to doping, but over the decades the judged sports also seem to have been heavily influenced by Russian/ East European federations. I’ve followed figure skating less over the past decade because the new judging system (introduced after the ’02 Olympics cheating) doesn’t really ensure honesty. And it’s only decimated other aspects (creativity) of the art-sport.

To me, the Sochi games were suspect in that area, as a rink full of blah Russians skated away with so many medals.
posted by NorthernLite at 9:50 AM on November 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


This will likely have repercussions for professional cycling as well, similar to the shockwaves that resulted from Operación Puerto, although for teams from the former eastern bloc, rather than Spanish-based teams/riders.

Already this year, we have seen Astana nearly lose their pro license for repeated doping violations (and then go on to win a grand tour), and positive tests from Katusha riders (although one of those was for cocaine, which is less likely to be part of a systematic doping program).

It would not surprise me in the least if there were more revelations this winter.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:51 AM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have long assumed that many professional athletes take PEDs. I don't know about "most," but I wouldn't be surprised. After all, this is a group of highly competitive people trying to be the best. Given how their professional success hinges on this, I can understand how it would almost seem stupid to refrain.

I wish I could be OK with it, but my main concern is that this really distorts the perception of the public. People see these bodies and level of performance, and think it's normal. When they try to follow in the footsteps of their "heroes," they are bound to be disappointed, and may end up taking the same shortcuts. The negative long term consequences can be extreme, especially for amateur athletes with no supervision.
posted by Edgewise at 9:56 AM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


How far does the yuan have to fall until we see the same report, but about China?
posted by thecjm at 10:10 AM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Some of us have enjoyed Olympic sports, and the ideals and spectacle of the Olympics, even as they are increasingly tarnished and commercialized.

Okay, you want real non-joke talk: let's end the charade.

Everyone knows doping goes on. Its such common knowledge we make jokes about it. So, let's stop pretending the Olympics are some grand, pure expression of human potential and just allow the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

People are clearly going to do it no matter what, so just bring it out in the open and allow it. Then you can regulate and test these drugs. If people choose to use them and fuck themselves up, that's their choice.

And don't cry that it will encourage people to use them so that they can compete at the top levels. People have been secretly using them for decades to be at the top levels. You almost can't be at the top level without doing them

Stop the secrets and lies, just admit to what's going on and allow it.

People see these bodies and level of performance, and think it's normal. When they try to follow in the footsteps of their "heroes," they are bound to be disappointed, and may end up taking the same shortcuts. The negative long term consequences can be extreme, especially for amateur athletes with no supervision.

That's the benefit of having it all out in the open and allowed. You will know you can't do what these people do without drugs. You will not be fooled into thinking you can be Lance Armstrong on your own. You will know you can't.

And if you then choose to use those drugs to achieve that level, you'll do so with full knowledge and consent. If they were legal and allowed you could have doctors or specialists developing and overseeing regimens. You could regulate production to guarantee drug safety. It would be safer and better for everyone.

Again, if you destroy your body doing that, that's your choice.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:40 AM on November 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


if you destroy your body doing that, that's your choice.

Agreed. If being healthy into your retirement years is your reason to ban doping, then what you should be doing is banning high-level sport. Check out Willie Mays' knees or Larry Bird's back. Being a top level athlete, even in non-contact sports, will destroy your body doping or not.
posted by thecjm at 10:44 AM on November 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


Again, if you destroy your body doing that, that's your choice.

It's not a choice for wide swaths of the world, though. If you believe even a fraction of what we're told about programs in some of these countries, they're taking kids far too young to be capable of informed consent and wreaking havoc on their bodies that will never go away. Even in the U.S., if "PEDs are okay for adults" becomes the standard, then "and for kids who really wnat them" will inevitably become the corollary. We can't keep cigarettes or alcohol away from children, and they don't promise any benefit.
posted by Etrigan at 10:47 AM on November 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


People are clearly going to do it no matter what, so just bring it out in the open and allow it. Then you can regulate and test these drugs. If people choose to use them and fuck themselves up, that's their choice.

This is the same basic approach used to argue for the abolition of minimum wage and workplace safety laws.
posted by indubitable at 10:56 AM on November 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


If you believe even a fraction of what we're told about programs in some of these countries, they're taking kids far too young to be capable of informed consent and wreaking havoc on their bodies that will never go away.

Then that's a problem with these programs, not the drugs. These programs would be brutalizing kids with or without them.

"and for kids who really wnat them" will inevitably become the corollary. We can't keep cigarettes or alcohol away from children, and they don't promise any benefit.

That's the point, though. The choice isn't between drugs or no drugs, it's between admitting what has always been going on, everywhere With drug use in sport, or having that continue underground in secret.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:58 AM on November 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


And if you then choose to use those drugs to achieve that level, you'll do so with full knowledge and consent.

You know how old athletes are when they're chosen in these less than free societies? Olympians compete at ages ranging from 16 through late twenties, typically trying to peak in the early twenties for most female events and mid-twenties for most males. That means athletes start in the process at 4 or 6. Their whole lives are sport. They have all the people they trust, coaches, doctors, senior officials, telling them that this is what they need to do to succeed, to get approval and love, but only conditionally, if they win.

That's how world-class athletes are made in these systems, who this article is about.
posted by bonehead at 11:03 AM on November 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


If you believe even a fraction of what we're told about programs in some of these countries, they're taking kids far too young to be capable of informed consent and wreaking havoc on their bodies that will never go away.

Then that's a problem with these programs, not the drugs. These programs would be brutalizing kids with or without them.


Being able to chip away at one aspect of those programs is worth the effort.

"and for kids who really wnat them" will inevitably become the corollary. We can't keep cigarettes or alcohol away from children, and they don't promise any benefit.

That's the point, though. The choice isn't between drugs or no drugs, it's between admitting what has always been going on, everywhere With drug use in sport, or having that continue underground in secret.


Throwing up one's hands is not an Olympic event, but if it were, you'd be gold.
posted by Etrigan at 11:49 AM on November 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


American Media paints Russia as the cheating nation - same story since Rocky III.
posted by Nanukthedog at 11:58 AM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it's the deliberate destruction -- consumption, even -- of the athlete's body that repels me so much. One of the links in my first comment is to a piece that details how badly damaged the bodies of DDR Olympians were, years after their doping ended.

And as had been stated, those drugs come to young people from figures of authority. The whole thing is a very gross abuse of trust and power.

I agree with those who suspect there is PED (ab-)use in many leagues, in most countries. Yet I can't just accept it as 'the price of competition at a high level.' I want better for these athletes: I think of my kids and imagine when these elite athletes were once kids, too.

See, my kids (age 7 to 16) run and play soccer, and they still do it for fun -- despite some coaches that would have them convinced they're already in The Big Leagues. They're just kids! And they're competing with other kids!

(To this end, and hopefully not a derail, I offer this link to today's NYT story that the U.S. Soccer Federation is about to announce limits on heading the ball for kids up to age 13. And they are doing it to avoid a class action lawsuit over damage to young competitors' bodies. I think it's a great idea!)
posted by wenestvedt at 12:39 PM on November 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


EVERYONE is on drugs in high-level competitive sport.

Everyone.

What's surprising is how sloppy the Russians were at covering it up. But the Russians probably thought the system is a joke. Which it is!

Maybe someone at WADA didn't get greased the right way. Whoops! Suddenly there's a report about the evil Russians!

In terms of institutionalizing drug usage, everyone used to have official programs in the 60s (some were earlier - Germans giving their athletes testosterone in the 40s, possibly earlier, the Russians probably around the same time). The US weightlifting program had a recommended dosage of methandrostenolone for its lifters. Of course most lifters figured if a little was good, a lot would be better. Depending on your genetics, it could be. But at least where hormones are concerned, there's a point of diminishing returns where side effects outweigh further benefits.

The soviets used to be really strict about making sure prospective athletes weren't using drugs, because everyone was expected to make massive progress once they first started using as part of state-run training.

But here's the thing: ruined athletes are everywhere, even ones that don't use. The American system churns out broken former athletes, and not just with contact sports (though if you look at the human carnage that pro football produces it's the worst one). A lot of people like to rag on Russia as the bad guy but in terms of training knowledge they have some of the smartest coaches and did the best sports science and training research in the 20th century. American athletes tend to succeed simply because the country has such broad genetic diversity, population size, and wealth that you can afford to grind athletes into the ground with shitty training and the ones with the best genetics will simply manage to survive and then hey you got yourself a world-class competitor. And there's always a line of prospective candidates willing to do whatever it takes to make it.

PEDs can kill you. But for most sports the amount that gets used isn't that much more harmful than the training itself. The fact is that competitive sport at the highest level is extremely unhealthy. It's pushing the body's limits. It's not healthy to be as lean as distance athletes get. It's not healthy to tear-off connective tissue or break bones in stress fractures. It's not healthy to push your cardiovascular system as hard as endurance athletes do. In some cases, intelligently used PEDs can actually extend careers and reduce the amount of damage athletes will live with afterwards.

The PEDs that can actually kill you are the blood thickeners: blood doping, EPO type compounds. Pretty much any anabolic will also increase your hematocrit levels to some degree, though some compounds much more than others. The other ones that can be really dangerous are amphetamines in already heart-stressful events like cycling or marathon running. It was these sort of in-race cycling deaths that kicked-off the whole anti-doping movement in the first place.

But here's the thing - people die in marathons all the time. Someone I used to train with in college died running a marathon in his 30s. And in my judgment he wasn't using anything (not high-enough level for it to make sense, didn't fit our milieu of Canadian university athletes: nobody at that level is kidding themselves that they'll ever make money off athletics). Done at a competitive level, sports aren't good for your health.

Everyone thinks about pro-wrestlers and bodybuilders when they think about PEDs and drugs. But these guys are huge to begin with, which is courting heart problems already. Then a lot of them stay on these drugs for a long time, which is another big no-no if you want to have much lifespan beyond your athletic career. And then a lot of them also used tons of uppers & downers, the wrestlers for professional reasons, bodybuilders for recreational ones.

(If you're female, there's the added hazard of basically turning yourself transgender if you dose yourself with anabolic/androgenic hormones, with the potential for reproductive complications. Also some males can render themselves sterile through anabolic use, though it's rare.)

Everyone's on drugs. That 30 for 30 about Ben Johnson talked about how the US covered for Carl Lewis's ephedrine bust so he could run in Seoul. Who knows how many higher-ups at Nike have been looking the other way with Alberto Salazar (and countless other athletes). It's been a while since I hung with any guys who trained with pros but I'd love to get a chance to ask someone what it's like at the USOC Colorado Springs training center in terms of how open people are with their usage or if it's a total sneak-fest.

Everyone's doing some version of it. Don't think the Chinese don't have an institutionalized doping program.

It's interesting how people talk about coercion. The soviets used to have a great physical education system where everybody's kids got physical education, but a part of it was assessment at different ages and when individuals with outstanding potential were flagged the parents would be "offered" to have their kid fast-tracked into the elite athletics programs. How much was stick vs carrot is a good question, but family members of successful athletes definitely had it better than your average soviet citizen. Who knows how it works in China.

It's useful to contrast that with market-based coercion. If you're a young person and you come from a background where you might not have that many opportunities to improve your situation, there might be a hell of a lot of pressure to succeed in athletics (possibly in a dangerous sport - boxers and football linemen don't tend to be ivy league types). Which includes taking PEDs. You just have to find them yourself.
posted by faceattack at 2:00 PM on November 10, 2015 [8 favorites]


Again, if you destroy your body doing that, that's your choice.

No, it's your parent's choice. You're just not going to be an Olympic class athlete unless you start training at a fairly young age, and if training is equated to "you will watch your child die" then training -- at least in the West -- loses a lot of its feedstock.

The Texan side of my family is banning their kids from playing Football -- TEXAN -- so don't think this isn't a huge deal. Doping is kept quiet to keep parents on board, at least with plausible deniability.
posted by effugas at 2:18 AM on November 11, 2015 [1 favorite]




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