An independent investigation led by a Canadian law professor confirmed Monday that Russia cheated at the Olympics: widespread, state-sponsored doping in Russian sports that led to 312 falsified results spanning from 2011 to 2015. So, how did Russia do it?
Richard McLaren of Western University unveiled the report’s findings this morning in Toronto.
He says labs in Moscow and Sochi protected Russian athletes.
The report said the cheating program resulted in at least 312 falsified results from 2011 through at least last year’s world swimming championships.
How Russia protected doping athletes while in Russia
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According to McLaren’s findings, the doping testing lab in Moscow operated as the program’s “failsafe system.” He said that if elite athletes did not receive “protection” from the “in the field mechanisms” then the doping would be covered up in the lab.
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In the lab, the “disappearing positive methodology” allowed for the transformation of positive test results into negative ones by “an order” from Russia’s deputy minister of sport, McLaren said. He did not, however, explain how the tests were altered. But once they were, a false record would be filed with World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and lab records.
“Laboratory staff were under strict instructions to report all positives to the ministry of sport whatever the circumstances,“ McLaren said.
McLaren said the information would be sent up the “chain of command,” and would come back to the lab with an order of either “save” or “quarantine.”
Essentially, if the order came back as “save,” test results would be altered in the lab and submitted to WADA as a negative test sample.
“If the order was ‘quarantine,’ the athlete’s positive results would proceed to be processed in accordance the WADA international standard for laboratories,” McLaren explained.
McLaren said out of 577 positive sample screenings Russia ordered 312 “saves” and 265 quarantined orders.
More than 240 of the 312 “Saves'” came from track and field and wrestling, but other sports involved included swimming, rowing, snowboarding — and even table tennis.
The Sochi Olympics and how a “mouse hole” was used to swap out doped urine for clean urine
McLaren said the “disappearing positive methodology” worked well to cover up doping. But not so well at international events due to more independent observers.
“For Sochi, the Russians needed a new, different methodology,” McLaren explained. “The sample-swapping methodology was developed and applied.”
The focus on hiding doped athletes focused on the tamper-evident caps of the sample bottles used in testing, the report explained. It was up to Russia’s secret service, known as the FSB, to figure out how to swap dirty urine with clean urine.
McLaren admitted that because of the FSB being a “secretive organization,” no one actually saw the bottle tampering. So, McLaren and his forensic team did some experiments. His team confirmed the caps can be removed without evidence visible to “an untrained eye.”
The report said the team’s “scratch and marks” expert did detect evidence of tampering from all Sochi bottles the group examined.
So, Russia figured out how to remove the caps on testing bottles, but they needed to replace dirty urine with clean stuff. To do this, Russia ordered its athletes to collect “clean” urine and it was stored in a secret freezer in the testing lab.
The clean samples were then swapped with dirty ones during the night, the report explained, through a “mouse hole” in the wall that was connected to a room that had the secret stash of clean urine.
The clean urine was then adjusted by adding table salt or distilled water to tweak the gravity of the urine to match the results of when the dirty sample was originally taken. The bottle would then be resealed and passed back through the “mouse hole,” and into the secured testing area for the urine to be tested in the morning.
McLaren did not make any recommendations for the future of the Russian team at the Rio Olympics. He said it was up to others, including the International Olympic Committee, to “absorb and act upon” the report.
Following Monday’s report, the WADA’s executive board wants the IOC to ban all Russian teams from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
WADA also wants Russian government officials to be denied access to international competitions, including the upcoming Olympics.
–with files from the Associated Press