Jared Tallent (left) should have been in the centre of this photograph. Picture: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Jared Tallent (left) should have been in the centre of this photograph. Picture: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Sinister side of Russia’s drug cheating uncovered

IT'S the medal tally you won't see anywhere near an Olympic broadcast but needs to be mentioned whenever Russia's doping history is mentioned.

Forty-three medals - 11 gold, 21 silver and 11 bronze - have now been stripped from Russian athletes since cross-country skier Larissa Lazutina was stripped of three medals in Salt Lake City in 2002 after testing positive to a drug so new it wasn't even on the banned list yet.

That's 43 times a clean competitor has been denied the right reward for a lifetime of hard work - like Australian 50km race walker Jared Tallent, who didn't learn he'd won the gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics until March, 2016, when a Russian doper who crossed the line first was disqualified.

It's also 32 more medals than any other country has been stripped of - Belarus (11) and Ukraine (10) are the only other nations in double figures.

Russia's doping history dates back at least to the 1980 Moscow Olympics, which were described by Australian periodical The Bulletin two days after they finished as the "Junkie Olympics".

"There is hardly a medal-winner at the Moscow Games, certainly not a gold-medal winner, who is not on one sort of drug or another: usually several kinds," journalist Robert Darroch wrote.

"The Moscow Games might as well have been called the Chemists' Games."

The Russians weren't alone back then. Anabolic steroid use was rife in eastern Europe and America - and here at home.

A bombshell ABC Four Corners program aired in November 1987 implied the use of steroids at the Australian Institute of Sport and included admissions by Commonwealth Games gold medal-winning javelin thrower Sue Howland that using PEDs was the only way of succeeeding on the international stage.

It led to a Senate inquiry into drug use in Australian sport and the formation of what's now known as ASADA. But Australia's clean-up job wasn't replicated in Mother Russia.

This week the World Anti-Doping Agency banned Russia from major international sporting events for four years, ensuring the white, blue and red flag won't be seen at next year's Tokyo Olympic Games or the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

It was the culmination of six years of investigation by a wide range of sources - journalists, filmmakers and doping officials - that's slowly uncovered the dark underbelly of Russia's corrupt system.


The first time doping officials got serious about investigating Russia came in 2014 after a German broadcaster released the 60-minute documentary Secret Doping Dossier: How Russia produces its Winners.

In the film, husband-and-wife whistleblowers Vitaly and Yuliya Stepanov exposed a systematic state-sponsored doping program.

Vitaly, a former employee of Russia's anti-doping agency, and Yuliya, a middle-distance runner, said athletes were expected to dope.

Yulia Stepanova, competing under her maiden name of Rusanova.
Yulia Stepanova, competing under her maiden name of Rusanova.

"You cannot achieve your goals without doping. You have to dope, that's how it is in Russia," Vitaly said.

"Athletes do not think when they are taking banned drugs they are doing something illegal," his wife added. "They take any girl, feed her pills and then she runs. Tomorrow, she will be suspended and they will say 'We'll find a new one'."

Former discus thrower Yevgeniya Pecherina also appeared, claiming "99 per cent" of the national team was doping.

It finally forced WADA's hand. It launched an investigation which exposed widespread cover-ups, banned the Russian Anti-Doping Authority and encouraged the International Olympic Committee to issue a complete ban at the Rio Olympics - a call that was only heeded by some sports, including athletics.



Another significant step forward against Russia's rorting of the system came in 2017 when Netflix released a documentary named Icarus.

The film, which won an Oscar, featured the testimony of scientist Grigory Rodchenkov, the director of Russia's national anti-doping laboratory.

For the first time someone from the inside was exposing how Russia had intentionally cheated in the Olympics - and President Vladimir Putin was well aware of illegal doping practices.

Rodchenkov admitted to switching steroid-tainted urine with clean samples to help Russian athletes avoid detection at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The bombshells were met with fury in Russia. Olympic offical Leonid Tyagachev said Rodchenkov "should be shot for lying, like Stalin would have done".

 Rodchenkov fled to the US - where he remains in protective custody - after two of his comrades died in suspicious circumstances after Icarus' release.

Whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov in 2007.
Whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov in 2007.

Russia took steps in an attempt to clear its name, firing officials and opening its doors to WADA to prove Rodchenkov's claims were lies.

But a reported released ahead of this week's decision proved little had changed.

WADA investigators delivered a 62-page document outlining the malicious attempts of Russian authorities to frame Rodchenkov by falsifying documents and manipulating computer systems through backdating.

It was discovered over 20,000 files and folders were deleted from the Moscow Laboratory server since WADA launched its offical investigation, the final damning chapter in a dark history of desperate lies and unethical conduct.

WADA concluded "the Moscow Data was intentionally altered prior and during to it being forensically copied by WADA" and "the Moscow Data is neither a complete nor authentic copy". Essentially, hundreds of analytical findings from 2015 have been removed, wiped from existence.


December 3, 2014 - German documentary How Russia Makes its Winners is released, alleging the existence of state-sponsored doping.

December 10, 2014 - WADA launches official investigation into the documentary's allegations.

December 11, 2014 - After he was told WADA staff had applied for visas to Russia, Dr Grigory Rodchenkov discarded and swapped Russian athlete samples.

November 17, 2015 - Rodchenkov fled Russia for the United States.

November 18, 2015 - The Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) was declared "non-compliant" by WADA.

July 18, 2016 - Part one of the McLaren Report is released

July 21, 2016 - The Investigative Committee entered the Moscow Laboratory to secure evidence. In the following days, a vast number of files were deleted from 12 computers and the Imaged Primary Disk.

December 9, 2016 - Part two of the McLaren Report is released

January 20, 2017 - Oscar-winning documentary Icarus is released, detailing Rodchenkov's confession and escape from Russia.

September 13, 2018 - Minister Kolobkov publicly acknowledged "a number of individuals within the Ministry of Sport" were involved in the manipulation of the anti-doping system in Russia.

Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov.
Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov.

January 9, 2019 - 19,982 files and folders from 2008-2011 were deleted from the Moscow Laboratory server, computer instruments and recycle bins. Other data indicative of doping was manipulated and or deleted. WADA arrived in Moscow to obtain a forensic copy of the Moscow Data, but did not enter the laboratory.

January 11, 2019 - WADA commenced forensically imaging of the Moscow Data. Minister of Sport of the Russian Federation personally ensured WADA only investigated the fabricated, modified and deleted data.

November 20, 2019 - after months of deliberations and hidden meetings, WADA's Intelligence and Investigations Department published a final report to the Compliance Review Committee (CRC).

December 10, 2019 - WADA suspend Russia from all major sporting events for four years.