Russia has systematic doping problem, reports say

Maria Savinova
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Russia has a systematic doping problem involving athletes, coaches and officials covering up performance-enhancing drug use, including bribes and extortion involving hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to two reports Wednesday.

Athletes and a former Russian anti-doping agency official detailed widespread doping in a one-hour German TV documentary.

“You cannot achieve the results that you are getting, at least in Russia, without doping,” said Vitaly Stepanov, who formerly worked for Russia’s anti-doping agency (RUSADA) for three years, according to ARD TV. “You must dope. That’s how it is done in Russia. The officials and coaches clearly say by using natural ability you can only do so well. To get medals you need help. And the help is doping, prohibited substances.

“There were times in RUSADA when I heard people from the ministry, from anti-doping department, would call to RUSADA and wanted to see who the athlete is, who has the positive sample and if it’s a no-name, then the sample is positive, if it is someone famous or someone young and medal-hopeful, then it is a mistake and it is not reported,” Stepanov said, according to ARD. “I clearly could see that officials try to make sure that some athletes are not being tested.”

Stepanov cited track and field, swimming, cycling, biathlon and weightlifting. His wife is Yulia Stepanova, a Russian 800m runner who was banned two years for doping in 2013.

“The coaches take any girl, feed her with tablets and then she runs,”  Stepanova, whose eighth-place finish from the 2011 World Championships was wiped out because of her doping ban, told ARD. “And tomorrow she will be suspended and then they say, we’ll find a new one. They feed them and say: ‘Yes, take that, everyone takes it. Take these substances.’ And when one is caught, they throw the athlete away and pick up a new one.”

Stepanova also said Russian athletes once trained in Portugal under false names to avoid foreign doping-control officers.

The documentary implicated Olympic 800m champion Maria Savinova for taking a banned steroid. Savinova won gold in London ahead of South African Caster Semenya, famous for a gender-testing controversy before the Olympics.

“Should there be anything affecting the International Olympic Committee and our code of ethics, we will not hesitate take any and all action necessary,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams told the AP.

RUSADA’s director general rejected the allegations to ARD. The head of Russia’s track and field federation declined comment to ARD.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) said it had already received some of the information and evidence shown in the documentary.

“All of that information has been passed to the appropriate independent body within the international federation, the IAAF,” WADA said in a statement. “We will await the outcome of that independent body’s deliberations.”

Also Wednesday, the agent for Russian Liliya Shobukhova, who ran the second fastest women’s marathon ever as part of Chicago Marathon wins in 2009, 2010 and 2011, said the runner paid the Russian track and field federation more than $500,000 to avoid a doping suspension, according to the TV documentary and L’Equipe.

The IAAF, track and field’s international governing body, said it has an independent ethics commission investigating the L’Equipe allegations, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Shobukhova was eventually suspended in April due to abnormalities on her biological passport that indicated doping, wiping out all her results since 2009, including the three Chicago titles.

The German documentary linked a requested refund of over $350,000 to Shobukhova’s husband, after she was banned, from Russian track and field president Valentin Balakhnichev, who is also the IAAF’s treasurer.

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