The Soviet Union boycotted the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles because they had such a huge doping problem that USSR politicians feared international exposure and drugs shame if they took part, according to an explosive new book, extracts from which appear exclusively in The Mail on Sunday today.
The autobiography of former Moscow lab boss-turned-whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov contains shocking details about the doping ‘bespredel’ (lawlessness) in Russian sport over many decades, unmasking hitherto untarnished champions as cheats.
Among other astounding revelations, Rodchenkov says one of the most tainted athletes in Olympic history — Canada’s Ben Johnson, who won 100m Olympic gold in 1988 in Seoul before it was revealed he had taken banned steroids — had secretly tested positive for steroids two years earlier.
The autobiography of former Moscow lab boss-turned-whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov contains shocking details about doping lawlessness in Russian sport over many decades
Rodchenkov reveals he personally conducted the 1986 doping sample analysis that found a banned steroid, stanozolol, in Johnson’s urine, at an event in Moscow. He says it was among 14 failed drugs tests covered up by the hosts to ensure those ‘Goodwill Games’ weren’t tarnished.
The book, The Rodchenkov Affair, will be published on Thursday and is sure to reignite a war of words between Vladimir Putin’s Russia and the rest of the sporting world.
Rodchenkov, 61, was first cited as being at the heart of Russian drug corruption in July 2013, when a Mail on Sunday investigation named him as central to state-sponsored doping and a cover-up.
Our story seven years ago quoted sources saying Russia intended to dope their way to Winter Olympic glory in Sochi in 2014.
We passed information to global governing bodies including the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the world governing body of athletics, the IAAF, and the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) — and they all failed to stop it.
When WADA-funded investigations finally began to probe Russia’s massive pan-sport cheating in 2015, Rodchenkov fled Russia for the USA in November that year and turned whistleblower.
His evidence has since been used to convict hundreds of cheats and he remains in protective custody in the US, in fear of his life.
His autobiography is an extraordinary account of a decades-long quest by the USSR and then Russia to win by any means.
Book claims Soviet Union boycotted the 1984 Olympic because they had such a huge doping problem that USSR politicians feared international exposure and drugs shame if they took part
‘I knowingly defrauded the world’s anti-doping authorities for more than a decade [as head of WADA’s Moscow lab], both for the greater ‘glory’ of Russian athletes and also to satisfy sports bureaucrats who were bent on perpetuating Russia’s sporting success,’ writes Rodchenkov.
‘I justified my actions by explaining that there had never been any real doping control in the Soviet Union or in Russia so I was continuing along a well-trodden path.’
Rodchenkov’s account of the USSR’s boycott of the LA Olympics of 1984 is counter to the prevailing narrative that it was a simple tit-fortat boycott after the USA skipped the 1980 Olympics in Moscow in protest at the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
‘In some countries there is a stigma associated with using steroids but that was never the case in Russia,’ writes Rodchenkov.
‘Training at the Olympic level puts significant strain on the body. Steroids reduce fatigue and trauma, and can also help muscles recover. I know plenty of athletes who used them for years and have lived long and healthy lives.’
He cites the ‘bespredel’ around drugs over decades, naming, for example, one Soviet athlete who became a double Olympic champion as well as multiple world and European champion and broke the world record in his event, without ever being linked to drugs.
Rodchenkov says the USSR finally decided to boycott the 1984 Olympics when plans for a secret Soviet lab hidden aboard a ship off the American coast became impossible
‘He ingested [banned steroid] stanozolol in such huge doses that after we had injected his sample into our Hewlett-Packard machine, an alarm sounded and it became so contaminated with stanozolol metabolites that the next few samples spat out false positives, even when we knew there were no steroids present,’ writes Rodchenkov.
After the world record, Rodchekov says: ‘Even though I diluted his sample with distilled water at a 10:1 ratio, it still overloaded my gas chromatograph mass spectrometer with gigantic peaks of stanozolol metabolites.’
Rodchenkov also names another, female, athlete, an Olympic champion who set an ‘unbelievable world record’, as a serial doper.
‘Programmed to win, they are shining examples of the close relationship between the state doping programme and the ideology of communism.’
Rodchenkov says the USSR’s ruling elite, the Politburo, finally decided to boycott the 1984 Olympics when plans for a secret Soviet lab hidden aboard a ship off the American coast became impossible: the LA authorities denied permission for it to enter the harbour.
‘The Soviets had been planning to hide a doping control laboratory on board a ship in the Port of Los Angeles during the 1984 Olympic Games, after Manfred Donike [a senior IOC anti-doping official] and Don Catlin of UCLA’s OlympicAnalytical Laboratory announced they would be able to detect all [drugs] — including stanozolol and testosterone — at the LA Games.
‘Testing athletes before their departure wouldn’t suffice — the Soviet sports czars had to have their own on-site laboratory in order to ensure that no dirty Soviet athletes made it to the starting lines.
That was the Games where Ben Johnson (pictured) became sport’s most notorious doper up to that point by failing a drugs test after winning the 100m final
‘When Los Angeles wouldn’t allow our ship to enter the harbour, that was the last straw. The Politburo pulled the plug and boycotted the Olympics entirely.’
Rodchenkov’s book reveals Russia did manage to deploy a secret lab during the 1988 Seoul Games, aboard the luxury liner ‘Mikhail Sholokhov’ named after a Soviet writer who won the 1965 Nobel Prize in Literature. Rodchenkov was charged with running it.
That was the Games where Ben Johnson became sport’s most notorious doper up to that point by failing a drugs test after winning the 100m final, just as Rodchenkov claims he had two years earlier, secretly.
‘Doping control analysis at the Goodwill Games turned out to be a formality,’ he writes. ‘Our laboratory uncovered 14 positive result, but apparatchiks from Goskomsport [the Soviet Ministry of Sport] chose not to report them — no one wanted to besmirch [the] ‘alternative Olympics’.
‘Canada’s Ben Johnson beat the American Carl Lewis but then tested positive for stanozolol. I did his analysis. The result was never reported.’
Johnson told The Mail on Sunday last week he had never been informed of any 1986 positive test and declined to comment further.
Rodchenkov reports how an IAAF doping control officer managed to obtain urine samples from two Russian racewalkers, Olga Kaniskina (pictured) and Valery Borchin
He has long-maintained that most of his rivals were also cheating in that era but got away with it. This has largely been shown to be correct.
Rodchenkov says Soviet doping was ‘out of control’ as long ago as the World Athletics Championships in 1983 in Helsinki, where ‘in some training camps, finding clean urine [to illegally swap for dirty samples] was a problem because so manyathletes were dirty.’
More than 20 years later, he says, there was a’veritable epidemic of EPO use’ (the illegal blood-boosting drug EPO) not least in Russian racewalking under the now-disgraced coach Viktor Chegin.
The IAAF, monitoring Chegin’s walkers’ blood samples, privately warned him to stop. Rodchenkov reports how an IAAF doping control officer managed to obtain urine samples from two Russian racewalkers, Olga Kaniskina and Valery Borchin, just a week before the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
But a Russian secret service agent managed to confiscate the samples at the border and charges were never pressed.
Kaniskina and Borchin subsequently won Olympic gold medals in China, and although many of their achievements were later expunged from the records for cheating, they officially remain Olympic champions from 2008.
Rodchenkov also tells the story of London 2012 discus thrower Darya Pishchalnikova (pictured) who failed drugs tests and threatened to blow the whistle on their country’s doping programme
Rodchenkov also tells the stories of Olympic medallists Irina Korzhanenko (2004, shot-putt) and Darya Pishchalnikova (2012, discus), who failed drugs tests and threatened to blow the whistle on their country’s doping programme.
But both decided ultimately to keep quiet under a ‘no retaliations’ agreement where cheats would keep quiet in exchange for Russian government pay-offs and support.
Rodchenkov’s implication of Russia’s most important officials in recent years is exemplified by the case of swimmer Yana Martynova, a national heroine who read the ‘athlete’s oath’ at her sport’s World Championships in the Russian city of Kazan in 2015 — swearing to commit to a sporting life without doping or cheating.
She read this oath in the presence of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin.
Rodchenkov writes in his book that ‘at the same moment’ he was sitting in his lab in Moscow, entering the fact that she had just failed a drugs test into his computer.
‘That is Russian sporting history in a nutshell,’ Rodchenkov writes. ‘Another doper was endorsing sportsmanship and fair play, with Putin standing next to his doped heroes.’