‘A certifiable charlatan’ What Russia has to say about Grigory Rodchenkov, the whistleblower who may have tanked Moscow’s 2018 Olympic hopes
Update: The International Olympic Committee Executive Board has suspended the Russian Olympic Committee for “the systematic manipulation” of anti-doping rules, banning Russian athletes from competing in Pyeongchang under the national flag and anthem. Individual Russian athletes will be invited “under strict conditions” to participate under the name “Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR),” though it's unclear if Russian athletes will agree to this treatment.
On December 5, 1:30 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will meet to discuss if Russia will be allowed to field a national team in the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Games, and if so in what capacity. There are already unconfirmed reports that the IOC has instructed Nike to design “neutral” uniforms for Russians, which would be needed if Russian athletes are forbidden from competing under the Russian flag and anthem (during award ceremonies, for example). The Russian government has already warned that it might boycott the next Olympics, if its national team is barred.
Whatever the International Olympic Committee decides, the organization will rely on testimony from Grigory Rodchenkov, the former director of a Moscow laboratory who blew the whistle on Russia government’s alleged doping program to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). The IOC stated directly in one of its disqualification rulings that Rodchenkov’s word would be sufficient to question the integrity of samples from Russian athletes, even without concrete evidence of doping. On the basis of his testimony and other evidence, the Russian national team has already been stripped of 11 medals won at the Sochi Winter Games (including three gold medals), and the country has dropped from first to third place in overall medals. In total, the IOC has disqualified 25 athletes following Rodchenkov’s revelations.
On the eve of the IOC’s decision, Rodchenkov told reporters about other possible violations by Russian sports officials. Rodchenkov has lived in the United States since 2016 in an FBI witness protection program. In Russia, he is accused of abusing his authority and destroying samples from doping tests. In several interviews ahead of the IOC’s announcement on December 5, Rodchenkov and his lawyer, Jim Walden, urged Moscow to admit its violations. Rodchenkov has also claimed that he has evidence that Russian soccer players cheated doping tests in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. He says the Russian government not only “rescued” its doping athletes, but also wanted to “spoil” other teams’ samples (though this proved to be unfeasible). Rodchenkov has also released excerpts from his diary, where he describes in detail the doping preparations ahead of the Sochi Winter Games (for example, how “clean” urine was mailed to him in baby food jars).
In response, Russia has drawn attention to Rodchenkov’s history of mental health issues. In 2011, he was placed in a psychiatric hospital for a schizotypal personality disorder after a suicide attempt, following criminal charges for illegally trafficking steroids. The Russian media has highlighted this episode repeatedly since Rodchenkov’s first explosive interviews were published in the U.S. media in May 2016.
Rodchenkov’s questionable mental health has now become a talking point at the highest levels of the Russian government, as well. On November 30, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev called Rodchenkov’s revelations “a psychiatric problem.” The television network NTV aired footage showing Rodchenkov talking to an unidentified person about his suicide attempt (the Norwegian outlet VG believes he was speaking to a friend in 2016). After this broadcast, Russia’s Curling Federation called Rodchenkov “a certifiable charlatan” and argued that the IOC can’t rely on his testimony.
“I absolutely certain that [Rodchenkov’s] diaries were written and edited over six months in the United States. They’re adjusted for certain facts. The whole thing looks ridiculous,” said Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko, who served as Russia’s sports minister from 2008 until 2016.