In Greek mythology, Icarus and his father, Daedalus, escaped from the tower above the palace of Minos. Both were flying above the sea, until Icarus ignored the warnings from his father and flew too close to the sun, crashing into the sea below later named the “Icarian Sea”. This title fits the driving force of the documentary, filmed by Bryan Fogel, an amateur cyclist and writer from Boulder, Colorado.
We hear about steroids and doping in American sports constantly. ESPN has become the forefront of the latest sports scandals and coverage of the banning of athletes, teams and entire countries in world sports. “Icarus” goes deep into the state-sponsored doping of Russian athletes, and the creator of today’s modern performance enhancement of high-level athletes. The movie begins with Bryan Fogel’s love of cycling. For those not familiar with cycling, it is perhaps the most highly substance-using sport in the world, by a landslide. Most people are familiar with Lance Armstrong’s story, a Tour de France winner seven times in a row, and an athlete who underwent over 500 drug tests. Armstrong tested negative for every drug test conceivable, yet admitted to doping after accusations by teammates.
Fogel’s doping investigation is rooted from his interest in the Armstrong scandal. He decides to put his own body on the line, and races the Haute Route, the most prestigious amateur cycling race on Earth. Finishing 14th out of 400 cyclists, Fogel decides to take it to the next level. He tests his hypothesis that he can test negative in drug tests two times, once racing clean, and another under the supervision of professional sports doctors with banned substances. Injections are done throughout the beginning, with hundreds of milligrams of hormones and countless vitamins. When he wants to go a step further, he discovers a goldmine.
Fogel gets in touch with experts of doping in world sports. The ex-director of Moscow’s Anti-Doping Centre, Grigory Rodchenkov, is the lead character in his experiment. Rodchenkov exposes the dirty secrets of how Russian athletes passed drug tests for the Olympic Games in 2008, 2012 and 2014. Fogel made a staggering discovery: not only were the Russian athletes who won 13 gold medals at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics involved in a state-sponsored doping program, but Rodchenkov’s evidence helped the World Anti-Doping Agency find over 1,000 Russian athletes across more than 30 sports who were involved in the state-sponsored doping program.
Rodchenkov risked his life, his family’s life, his finances, and all of the credibility built under his anti-doping center to release information against his country. In the film, he goes into detail about the swapping of athlete’s urine (urine is the primary asset used for drug testing) and the devices used to break into the Berlinger bottles. Made by a company in Switzerland, the bottles are considered to be unbreakable; however, with a few FSB agents and Dr. Rodchenkov, the bottles were broken into and swapped with clean urine for present and future doping tests.
When Fogel was given this insider information, he was left in shock with the results of his findings. Immediately, Fogel and his producers sought legal assistance to protect Rodchenkov’s life and integrity. Currently, Rodchenkov is in the Witness Protection Program and his wealth in Russia is seized by Vladimir Putin. His character and charisma in the film strongly connects with Fogel, and is apparent when he maxes out his credit card to buy Rodchenkov a plane ticket to Los Angeles in order to avoid a “suicide.” Not only does the documentary reveal the doping program established by the Russian government, it also shows the level to which the government is willing to go in order to keep the program quiet.
“Icarus” is two hours long, and has been awarded with the SummerDocs Audience Award from the Hamptons International Film Festival, and the Special Jury Prize from the Sundance Film Festival. The documentary is currently available on Netflix, and has a 91% rating on rottentomatoes.com. The plot is intertwined with George Orwell’s novel “1984” and the government interference in the world of sports. There is currently a GoFundMe for Rodchenkov to support his legal battles and to regain some of the wealth confiscated by the Russian government.
Perhaps Rodchenkov will reveal more information in the future, especially regarding the upcoming World Cup in Russia in the summer of 2018. Fogel will certainly have his story at the top of the list for sport’s biggest revelations of all time. While many fans and spectators have always suspected a particular athlete or group of athletes to doping, not many would have seriously considered the entire nation of Russia being under a state-sponsored doping program. It is entirely possible, that with the evidence provided by former scientists and anti-doping directors, that more countries will be under the microscope with the next wave of evidence.
Grigory Rodchenkov’s GoFundMe: https://www.gofundme.com/how-is-grigory
Edited by Garrett Cecere