Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Icarus

 "Icarus" (2017) was recommended by Katelyn Burns and is available on Netflix.  Today we are amazed at how brazen Vladimir Putin can lie.  Attacking Ukraine is offensive to most of the world and to hear his distortions is very discouraging  But we should have learned that he cannot be trusted and here is an example.  

 The film starts about Lance Armstrong and at another point they refer to drugs in major league baseball, but the bulk is about Russian sports.

Bryan Fogel was interested in doping for sports and was able to contact Grigory Rodchenkov and over time earned his trust.  Grigory had been involved with the doping program in the Soviet Union.  For much of the film he seems very humorous and advises Bryan on how to dope himself.   I was not certain how serious the effort was, but it became serious as after more details Grigory was persuaded to tell the truth and then he felt compelled.

Richard Pound, a Canadian and former Olympian was selected to head up a Russian investigation. As Grigory explained the Russians (with his help) had developed a very elaborate system to circumvent the protocols of WADA  (world anti doping association) that had branches around the world.  There is no pussyfooting about it in that the trail leads directly to Vladimir Putin.  Putin established that Russian sports success was very important and authorized doping for all the athletes and methods to cover up.  His denials were matter of fact.

One of the strategies to find out about the bottles that Grigory pointed out had been swapped for clean urine examples was to check for minute signs of tampering of the bottles.  It turned out 100% had been tampered with.  The Russians apparently had all the athletes give clean urine samples that were store at a FSB (formerly KGB) building very near the on site lab in Sochi, Russia.

Grigory contended that doping started with the Vancouver Winter Olympics and was carried on to the London Olympics and of course to Sochi.  After Sochi the Russians were accused  and banned from competition.  However on appeal the IOC accepted a submission of 389 athletes from Russia and rejected only 111.  Russia won 56 medals.

After more investigations Russia was allowed to let their athletes compete under a different arrangement.  They are not allowed to have "Russia" on their uniforms, have their national anthem played for gold medal presentations

At the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics the Russians were caught with a 15 year old figure skater having tested positive.  She was impressive in her first performance helping a Russian team come first.  Later on in a single event she fell and it was interesting to note that her coach failed to give the weeping athlete comfort.  It was pointed out that Russia has been suspected to giving performance enhancing drugs to pre pubescent females that apparently have been unable to compete after puberty.

As Richard Pound pointed out the drug scandals will destroy spectator sports as no one will watch a fixed game or event.  Many year ago I recall reading one pundit suggesting we should just allow drugs and the events would match drug makers against each other.  That cynical view overlooks health risks that would most likely filter down to recreational levels as athletes looking for an edge.  

Grigory was criticized for his role in the doping efforts, but it was recognized that he was responsible for uncovering the crime.  The Russians called him a turncoat.  He was put in a Witness Protection Program, but his wife, children and sister had their passports taken away.  

The film is mind opening and worth viewing.Bryan Fogel was writer, director and producer.  He had a prominent role in presenting.  He even had himself injected with drugs.  The film won an Oscar for best documentary.  His next documentary, "The Dissident: (2020) was about the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi.

Canadians (me included) were very excited when Ben Johnson won a gold medal in the 100 meter sprint during the 1988 Seoul Olympics, but only a few days later he was humiliated and had to return the medal.  Most of us were ashamed.  Later we were told that likely all of the finalists had used doping. 

Sports are supposed to be good for health and can be exciting to watch.  Performance enhancing drugs should have no place in our world.

We should have learned that tyrants like Vladimir Putin cannot be trusted.  His denials of crimes have little credibility.  I am thinking of the poisonings of former Soviet spy in Salisbury, England.  Also one must wonder how much effort was put into electing Donald Trump and favoring Brexit.  My hope is that the world has learned something and can make a better, safer future for all of us.

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