Salt and coffee used to hide tainted Russian doping samples
Doping mastermind-turned-whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov used salt, coffee and water to cover up drug failures but his secret service links did not hide all the signs of Russia’s dubious bid for sporting glory.
Tiny scratches inside the bottles of urine samples which were switched by an FSB intelligence agent during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics gave the cheating game away, according to the investigation published Friday by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren.
The former head of Moscow’s main anti-doping laboratory, now in hiding in the United States, had to resort to desperate measures because of the “potential time bomb” of being found out by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the report said.
Rodchenkov was an FSB intelligence agent as well as laboratory director who took charge of doping which McLaren said started in 2011 at the latest. Part of his job was to report on WADA activities to the secret service.
The report said Russian officials started to panic about the risks of being caught in the run-up to the London Olympics which McLaren said was corrupted on an “unprecedented” scale.
It indicated that sports minister of the time, Vitaly Mutko, now a deputy prime minister, was implicated in the events.
Rodchenkov was absent through illness for much of 2011.
“After Dr. Rodchenkov’s return, various steps and actions were initiated by the (ministry of sport) under the leadership and knowledge of both Minister Mutko and Deputy Minister Nagornykh, with direct involvement of the Federal Security Service (FSB),” said the report.
Russia was particularly anxious about the London Olympics and Rodchenkov developed a “cocktail” that would make banned substances more difficult to detect.
WADA stepped up testing of Russian athletes from May to July 2012. McLaren said positive tests were reported to the sports ministry and false results sent to the WADA computerised system.
Rodchenkov realised he was “sitting on a potential time bomb” when WADA requested that 67 samples meant to be stored in Moscow be sent to the Lausanne laboratory for new tests.
He knew that 10 of the samples on the list were “dirty” but had only clean urine for eight of the athletes involved.
He added salt and coffee to put off WADA experts.
– ‘Clean’ urine in baby bottles –
“He (Rodchenkov) altered the clean A samples either by diluting with water, adding salt, sediment or Nescafe granules when needed to match the specific gravity and appearance of the dirty B samples,” McLaren said.
Experts quoted in the report said up to a teaspoonful of salt was added to some samples.
The report named Anastasiya Kapachinskaya, who won a silver in the Russian 4x400m women’s relay team in Beijing in 2008, and Darya Pishchalnikova, who took silver in the women’s discus in London, as two of the athletes involved.
Rodchenkov said that Pishchalnikova “was considered untouchable throughout her career, meaning that none of her samples would or could be reported positive.”
The report said the sports ministry, FSB and Rodchenkov decided in 2013 to develop a system to replace urine in samples taken at events so it would be ready for the Sochi Olympics.
“The FSB was put on a project to remove and replace the bottle caps from the sample bottles.” It became known as the “Disappearing Positive Methodology”.
Rodchenkov “described instruments, no bigger than a traditional Mont-Blanc pen, and similar to the instruments that a dentist would use in examining teeth, with a handle and thin metallic portion that was bent at various angles.”
A “clean bank” of urine from athletes was also set up so doping failures could be replaced. The clean urine was carried around in “Coke and baby bottles”, the report said.
According to the whistleblower, the 2013 world athletics championships in Moscow and the world university games in Kazan were used as rehearsals for Sochi.
At the 2014 Winter Games, six Paralympic athletes who won a total of 21 medals “all had their samples swapped,” the report said.
At the Olympics, two athletes who won four gold medals and a female silver medal winner “had samples with salt readings that were physiologically impossible.” Two women’s ice hockey players provided samples with male DNA.
Finally forensic experts started noticing “scratches and marks on the inside of the bottle caps” used for samples that provided “confirmation of opening and tampering with sample bottles.”
The report called it a “carefully orchestrated conspiracy.” McLaren told a press conference that Russia’s “dark secret” had been exposed.