December 3, 2014
German network ARD is going to air a documentary this evening alleging that 2011 World and 2012 Olympic 800 champion Mariya Savinova of Russia is part of a massive Russian doping system (ARD press release). Relying on interviews and evidence provided by former Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) employee Vitaliy Stepanov — including secretly-recorded conversations with numerous athletes and coaches — the documentary alleges that RUSADA covered up positive tests of prominent athletes in sports such as swimming, cycling, biathlon, track and field, weightlifting and nordic skiing.
The documentary also includes allegations the former World Marathon Majors champion and three-time Chicago Marathon champion Liliya Shobukhova paid out more than $600,000 in bribes to the Russian athletics federation to try to avoid a doping suspension. ARD has evidence to show that the President of the Russian Association of Athletics Federations, Valentin Balakhnichev, was involved in the process (Phil Hersh of the Chicago Tribune has now written about this allegation, which also was originally reported today by the French newspaper L’Equipe). Balakhnichev also serves as the treasurer for the IAAF. ARD also implicates Russian Athletics Federation coach Alexey Melnikov and leading sports physician Sergey Portugalov in the drug procurement system and the cover-up of positive doping tests.
As for Savinova, ARD claims to have cell phone video footage of the 800 Olympic champ speaking about doping practices and her use of the banned anabolic substance oxandrolone. ARD also says it has footage of Savinova’s coach, Vladimir Kazarin, discussing how he gave tablets containing oxandrolone to another athlete.
Stepanov is the husband of another Russian 800 runner, Yuliya Rosanova Stepanova, the 2011 Russian champion and 2011 European Indoor bronze medalist who is currently serving a two-year ban for abnormalities in her biological passport (all of her results since March 3, 2011, including the two titles listed in the previous sentence have been stripped). The two have fled the country out of fear according a Spanish paper. “I think Russia will not forgive us,” Rusanova said of her revelations.
Stepanova levelled the following accusation at the Russian sports system (quote translated via Google Translate), “This is hammered into the coaches and the coaches therefore banging into the athletes. The athletes do not think when they are taking banned drugs that they are doing something wrong.”
(Editor’s note: ARD has now sent out an English translation of their press release that can be read here)
Stepanov, her husband, continued by saying:
“There were times in the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, as have people from the Ministry, called by the local Anti-Doping Unit and wanted to know who [tested positive]. The athlete is having a positive test if it was an unknown athlete, then the test was just positive – but if it was someone famous or a young medal hope there was a ‘mistake’ and it was not pursued…I was very clear with that officials have tried to make sure that some athletes were not even tested.
“… if one is caught, they throw away the athlete and take a new one.”
ARD also says that the state helped Russian athletes avoid testing while training abroad and that athletes would use fake names when checking into a hotel to avoid testing.
We believe that much of the the ARD report today is the work of German journalist Hajo Seppelt who also went undercover in Kenya to expose doping there in 2012. If you speak German, here is an audio link of him talking about today’s developments on German radio this morning.
Quick Take #1: This is a huge and shocking story in many ways, but in other ways, it’s more of the same.
Today’s developments are the latest in a long line of doping scandals involving leading Russian distance women. In 2008, the then world indoor 1500 world record holder Yelena Soboleva, 2004 Olympic 1500 silver medallist Tatyana Tomashova and three other mid-d stars were banned for using other people’s urine in doping tests (in 2007, the IAAF cleverly stored out-of-competition tests given to Russian athletes and compared the DNA).
Earlier this year, Steve Hooker’s wife, Ekaterina Kostetskaya, was banned for two years. Her mother, Olga Dvirina, was a 3:54 1500 runner in the 1980s, a time that by itself raises a ton of suspicions. Sadly, when a Russian women’s mid-d runner does well, many in the sport just sort of assume she is on drugs.
Quick Take #2: This story could get a lot bigger
The ARD press release doesn’t say exactly how many athletes or coaches are implicated, but the Russian doping system clearly appears to be widespread. In his Chicago Tribune story, Hersh suggests that the money from Shobukhova’s bribe “could have been used to pay off an IAAF official or officials to suppress Russian doping positives.” A source told us he’s expecting to see people with ties to the IAAF implicated (besides the treasurer, Balakhnichev). This story is already disturbing but if IAAF officials were involved, then that’s an even bigger problem.
At the very least, we expect more athletes than just Savinova to be implicated. A story this big will definitely prompt an IAAF investigation which could reveal even more names.
More:D iscuss this on our Messageboard: *Another Huge Russian Doping Scandal – 2011 World, 2012 Olympic champ Mariya Savinova implicated + IAAF treasurer Valentin Balakhnichev
*Shobukhova Story Gets Weird
Outside Articles:Exclusive: ARD Documentary exposes Doping and Cover-up System in Russia / Active Athletes, Coaches and Insiders come clean
*Article in German Paper on Allegations
*Article in Spanish Paper on Allegations
*Phil Hersh Article on Shobukhova from today