Yulia Stepanova and Vitaliy Stepanov in the ARD Documentary Geheimsache Doping Top Secret Doping
Yulia Stepanova and Vitaliy Stepanov in the ARD Documentary Geheimsache Doping Top Secret Doping

As incredible as it may sound, the entire Russian track and field team have been banned from international competition, and may be prevented from competing in the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. It was announced on November 13 that Russia’s track and field federation was suspended in a 27-1 vote by the International Amateur Athletic Federation, the global governing body of track and field. Not only has numerous cases of doping been uncovered, based on a report by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), doping appears to have been systemic, involving coaches, athletes and officials.

As the report explains, “The investigation indicates that the acceptance of cheating at all levels is widespread and of long standing. An athlete’s decision not to participate is likely to leave him or her without access to top caliber coaches and thus the opportunities to excel. This acceptance and, at times, expectation of cheating…indicate a fundamentally flawed mindset that is deeply ingrained in all levels of Russian athletics. The mindset is ‘justified’ on the theory that everyone else is cheating as well.”

WADA was prompted into action after the airing of a documentary by German broadcaster ARD called “Geheimsache Doping”, or “Top Secret Doping” in English.

Below are excerpts from the English transcript of the now-famous documentary. You can watch an English version of the documentary here.

When discus thrower, Evgenia Pwcherina is asked by a report how many athletes from the national team in Russia are doping, she replies, “Most of them. The greater part. 99%. And you get absolutely anything. Everything the athlete wants. And the shorter the period it can be detected, the more expensive the product.”

Said Oleg Popov, a Russian coach, “The athlete has no choice. Either you prepare yourself in national team with banned substances, in order to win medals which are also accredited to the Federation – the head coach, the Ministry of Sport, the Federation President, the entire Russian Athletics Federation. And, if you are unable to agree with this scheme, which they offer you, then things can move very quickly and you’re out.”

One of the first people to approach the producer of the documentary, Hajo Seppelt, was a

The logo for the World Anti-Doping Agency
The logo for the World Anti-Doping Agency

It appears that success is catching up with Kenya. Soon after topping the medals table at the World Athletics Championships in August, Kenya is under fire for an apparent and rampant doping of athletes, and now face a possible 4-year ban from competition, which would include the Rio Olympics in 2016.

As the New York Times reported, a Kenyan profession who headed an independent investigation into drug use by Kenyan athletes told the French magazine, “L’Equippe, “In this country, there is more EPO being consumed by athletes than by the ill.”

When Abebe Bikila from Ethiopia made his mark as a gold medalist from North Africa in Rome and Tokyo in the early 1960s, and fellow Africans began to find success in track, it was thought that the tradition of running long distances in high altitude environments was a natural competitive advantage.

But apparently, that advantage was not enough, and Kenyans in particularly have fallen into a culture of performance enhancing drugs. EPO, or erythropoietin, which is a hormone that controls the production of red blood cells, is now commonly used. Allegations of doping were strengthened when the blood tests of championship athletes, including 77 Kenyans, were leaked to the British paper, The Sunday Times, earlier this year.

Rita Jeptoo, of Kenya, breaks the tape to win the women's division of the 118th Boston Marathon Monday, April 21, 2014 in Boston. She Marathons, tested positive for a banned substance in September 2014 and was banned for two years in January.  (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Rita Jeptoo, of Kenya, breaks the tape to win the women’s division of the 118th Boston Marathon Monday, April 21, 2014 in Boston. She Marathons, tested positive for a banned substance in September 2014 and was banned for two years in January.
(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Unfortunately, what has not become commonplace is a custom of testing and accountability. Just yesterday, Kenya Olympic Committee president, Kip Keino expressed the seriousness of the threat to Kenya. “It is no longer just a threat,” said the two-time Olympic champion. “They think Kenya is sweeping doping issues under the carpet.” According to this Reuters report, the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) has been tracking Kenya’s doping situation for many years, but now seem about to act.

Jason GatlinWhen Justin Gatlin lost to Usain Bolt in the 100-meter finals at the IAAF Track and Field Championships, the twitterverse was definitely rooting for Bolt to retain his championship. Gatlin’s history with doping turned this match into a morality play – Unblemished Bolt vs. Tainted Gatlin.

There were some who came to Gatlin’s defense – he tested positive for a banned substance in 2001, was subsequently banned for competition for two years, which was later reduced to one year. In other words, he served time for the crime, as it were.

What I learned recently is how aggressive drug testing is today. According to this article by Nick Zaccardi, who writes a blog on the Olympics for NBC, Gatlin has already been tested 62 times in 2015 – that’s once every four days!

On the surface, I agree with his agent, Renaldo Nehemiah, that “It’s ridiculous.” But then again, it’s a high-stakes world where considerable amounts of money is poured into finding the edge that brings the slimmest of improvements in competitive sports.

Gatlin’s not alone. In 2014 Gatlin was the second most tested track and field competitor, but Michael Phelps was tested even more.

Thus the cat and mouse game between chemists and regulators continues…. probably forever.

Tyson Gay, a member of the 4X100 US men’s relay team, had returned his silver medal from the 2012 London Summer Games a year ago. And yet, two years later, the cloud from his drug-enhanced achievement continued to hang over the rest of his teammates. Yesterday, the hammer came down from the International Olympic Committee and the entire US 4×100 relay team were stripped of their silver medals.

Tyson Gay_second from left_Hassan Ammar AP
Tyson Gay_second from left_Hassan Ammar AP

As this NY Times article reported, there is a silver lining, at least for Trinidad and Tobago men’s 4X100 team, which could eventually be recognized as second place winners, while France’s team could end up with bronze.

This wasn’t the first Olympic disqualification, nor will it be the last. As this link – Top 10 Athletes Who Lost Their Olympic Medal – shows, history abounds with the fallen and disgraced, including:

  • Ben Johnson: The Canadian sprinter set the world record in the 100 meter race in Seoul in 1988, but only 3 days later failed a drug test for the steroid, Stanozolol, and was forced to surrender his gold medal.
  • Andreea Raducan: The Romanian gymnast won two gold medals as well as silver in various individual and team events in the Sydney Games in 2000, but gave them up after testing positive for pseudoephedrine.
  • Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall: The Swedish pentathlete was found to have consumed alcohol – two beers to be exact – which was classified as a drug at the time in 1968. Though Sweden won a medal for the Men’s Pentathlete Team competition in Mexico City, they had to return their medals.
  • Marion Jones: The American sprinter was found to have taken steroids, resulting of being stripped of 6 Olympic medals won at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney.
  • Jim Thorpe: The star of the Stockholm Games in 1912, Thorpe was disqualified and relieved of his gold medals in the pentathlon and decathlon. His crime? He had played professional baseball, earning a pittance to play.