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'Icarus:' The documentary that helped bring down Russia's doping scheme




Bryan Fogel started out exploring whether he could race faster as an amateur bicyclist by taking performance-enhancing drugs, and that idea led him to the man who ran Russia’s highly sophisticated program for doping Olympic athletes.
Bryan Fogel started out exploring whether he could race faster as an amateur bicyclist by taking performance-enhancing drugs, and that idea led him to the man who ran Russia’s highly sophisticated program for doping Olympic athletes.
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Robert Mueller's indictment of 13 Russian citizens for allegedly meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election isn't Russia's only current scandal. There's also the country's extensive, state-sponsored doping program, the focus of the Oscar-nominated documentary, "Icarus."

At the 2018 Winter Olympics, two Russian athletes have, so far, failed doping tests, making it clear that the problem is far from solved.

"Icarus" follows scientist Grigory Rodchenkov, the architect of Russia's sophisticated doping operation, even as he is forced to go into hiding in the United States. Rodchenkov was recently featured in an episode of "60 Minutes."

"Icarus" director Bryan Fogel stresses the direct correlation between Russia's manipulation of the U.S. election and the country's scheme to cheat at sports. He believes they both demonstrate a willingness to do anything to be on top. Fogel thinks the documentary's story transcend sports to asks deeper questions about global politics and human nature. 

Filmmaker Bryan Fogel, left, and The Frame's John Horn.
Filmmaker Bryan Fogel, left, and The Frame's John Horn.
KPCC

Are there any clean sports? 

According to [Rodchenkov], at least in regards to Russia, over their four decades of steroids and performance enhancing, they found that some sports were not good to dope the athletes. They tried to do that and realized it wasn't better. I was told specifically figure skating. They realized that figure skating for the women was like ballet and that they didn't want to get the women too juiced up for figure skating. Any sport where it was endurance, strength, true fitness — biathalon, bobsled, skeleton, nordic skiing, alpine skiing — and then all the summer sports, according to Grigory and the two different findings of the investigations, those athletes were doped. 

Is doping limited to Russia?

Of course it's not limited to Russia. I think the difference is, what you see in "Icarus" is a state-sponsored system. You can certainly make that analogy, say, to Lance Armstrong. Even though all of his teammates were doing it, everyone else was doing it, ultimately it was an individual choice. The government was not mandating this. In the case of Russia, the athletes are actually employees of the government. If they win an Olympic medal they get a bonus somewhere along the lines of a million, maybe even $2 million. 

The link between the Russian doping scandal and meddling in the U.S. election:

Of course there's a direct relation and that relation is incredibly clear. What you see in "Icarus" is that Russia is willing to go to all costs to win. And when they go to all costs, there is no moral compass involved as to the extent of which they are willing to go to win.  So if you were willing to go to these elaborate extents for 40 years to win gold medals in sport, is there any question that you would go into other lengths to meddle into other affairs?

What we're seeing in the Mueller investigation and these charges is, no matter what is brought against them, there is a complete and utter denial of anything that happened. I didn't want to bring the election into the film. But what I wanted people to take away was realizing that if you could go to these extents and this level of deniability, what lengths are [they] willing to go to to meddle in foreign affairs? It's changing the course of current politics and we, as Americans, are living with the results of this action every single day. 

The risks of making this movie:

As you see in the film, there's this period of seven days from the breaking of this World Anti-Doping investigation — alleging that there's a state-sponsored system even though there's no evidence — to Grigory fleeing Russia in fear of his life. When we had that phone call on Skype, and he tells me, They're going to kill me and you have to get me [an airplane] ticket, at that moment I said, My life is going to change, this is incredibly serious. And when he arrived [in the U.S.] within about a week, I truly understood the magnitude of what this was. He was the only man alive that had this evidence, knowing that he was going to be hunted.

The security measures they took:

Through [this eight-month period] we changed our editing offices four times. Everybody on my team [used] burner phones. We took our edit completely offline so everybody had to be working on independent drives. We moved Grigory's safe house four times. And then everyday, as we're hearing essentially threats from Russia and we're hearing the media in Russia, [producer] Dan Cogan and I are on daily crisis management, figuring out how we're going to get [Grigory] a lawyer, how we're going to get him immigration help, how we're going to bring this story forward and ultimately to the New York Times so we can save Grigory's life, get this public. But also for ourselves—we knew that we were in danger ourselves. 



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