With the most important whistleblower in the world of sports: Grigory Rodchenkov. The questions are asked by Andrea Schültke and Hajo Seppelt.
Just before Christmas in New York. That is where we recorded the interview with Grigory Rodchenkov, a joint production of Deutschlandfunk, German national radio station and the ARD Doping editorial team.
Grigory Rodchenkov, former head of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory, was the central figure in connection with the state-sponsored doping program in Russia - especially with the sophisticated cover-up system at the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi in 2014. Grigory Rodschenkow changed sides, cooperated with investigators and fled to the USA. At the moment he lives in an unknown place in the witness protection program.
"Given the fact that the Russians are doing everything in thier power to phisically get him back into Russia. Given the fact that at least our understanding is that there are people here in the United States looking for him and actively seeking out Grigory Rodchenkov to murder him", says his lawyer Jim Walden.
The interview will take place at his office in Manhattan. Originally the interview was planned to be face-to-face with the whistleblower. But due to security reasons, we had to switch to the telephone. The location for recording is Jim Walden’s office in Manhattan. The lawyer or his or her associate will be present during the whole time. All questions had to be discussed in advance. In this exceptional case, we have agreed to do so. At exactly 12 am, a conference connection was ready to dial in that day. The questions were asked by Andrea Schültke and Hajo Seppelt:
Hajo Seppelt: Can you explain how organised doping has developed in Russia over time?
Grigory Rodchenkov: Year by year, generation by generation the system of doping was "deeply rooted" in Soviet times. And of course later confidential doping conspiracy in Russia was developed permanently. And let's say over the last ten years, when I was the director, it was almost focused on immediate response to any emerging threats. We developed this methodologies, but then we developed antivenome. You know. Again… Introduction of new biological passport - changes in WADA requirement to international standard laboratory and technical documents.
We had to respond to each thread or change. Then very important is that it was not my initiative, it was a teamwork, it was a Ministry of sports paid structure. They purchase for us instrumentation of latest models and top configurations, automatic new computers. They provide money for scientific and other research. We knew everything like one step ahead.
Andrea Schültke: Do you know when the state-sponsored doping program actually began in Russia?
Rodchenkov: Since 1980. As soon as new rebuild and accredited in anti-doping laboratory in the USSR, before the 22nd Olympic Games in Moscow it could considered as being started. You cannot start any doping program without having access to doping control laboratory. It is the golden rule of any scheme. When I started to work in laboratory in Moscow in 1985 the organized scheme was already on board.
Of course since that time tons of improvements has made. You know… It was… You cannot compare 1985 and 2015. (...) Doping is not because everybody is so bad. Doping begins when harm from their heavy training workload becomes more dangerous than harm from using doping.
"The athletes were always saved"
Schültke: Richard McLaren has counted or identified approximately 1.000 athletes, as having been involved in the doping scheme. Is that number correct or was it even more?
Rodchenkov: Honestly I don't know exact number. Nobody knows. We are talking about state system, cause those top-level athletes were fully protected at the state level from being disqualified. It means that they were immune to doping controls inside Russia. They were always saved.
Seppelt: Can you sum up which sports has been involved at that point already?
Rodchenkov: In regards to Sochi, the most corrupted federations was skiing, biathlon, skeleton, bobsled, luge and partially female hockey.
How exactly this "protection" took place that Grigory Rodchenkov spoke of was investigated by the Canadian law professor Richard McLaren on behalf of the World Anti-Doping Agency WADA. The lawyer relied on documents and statements from Grigory Rodchenkov. From this it can be seen, among other things, that there was a list, the so-called "Duchess List". On it were the names of the "protected" athletes, who were not allowed to be tested positively although they had taken doping drugs. Their urine was exchanged in the laboratory in Sochi with the help of a sophisticated system for clean urine without doping agent residues.
Schültke: When the swapping system started, was it possible that athletes clean urine was used for the swapping method without the knowledge of these athletes?
Rodchenkov: No, absolutely not. Nobody is so naive at higher level of national team. Because they were teach to and learned how to collect urine in 2012. Athletes were providing urine after training or sauna or dinner.
And again later our Duchess-team was disciplined and fully aware, what was ongoing. And why they deny? Because they are not simply athletes. They are army and police officers. And they never admit any "ploy" or conspiracy.
"It was working very well"
Seppelt: Can you describe in detail how do sample swapping method worked exactly in Sochi? What was happening with the A sample and what was happening with the B sample?
Rodchenkov: The answer is simple. We swapped both A and B sample during midnight to the only one purpose. To swap content especially for A sample to submit a sample back to reception. And all should be ready for analysis before initial testing procedures should be ready at 7 am. This is the most important things compared to the previous years. It was not swapping after the analysis, it was swapping before the analysis. Because the result of analysis has been reviewed by numeral, foreign "experts", who were present in laboratory - you know that.
Seppelt: And the B sample?
Rodchenkov: B was also swept exactly parallel with A. So when we received samples just Blochin (an agent of the Russian intelligence agency FSB, editor's note) came to FSB command center, take urine and bring it to laboratory to be unsealed. And then adjusted specific gravity by dilution or by adding salt, so that 120 mil was ready for substitution.
So when we received A and B sample, because A sample is already opened, the plastic cap is crashed. So given through the hole and then B bottle give also passed over through the hole. And then I plugged A bottle special closed B bottle and then passed back to the reception control zone. It was working very well and I tell you the truth. We had some problems maybe with a few B-bottles, when it took one hour or more something was very complicated and really close. But in general we had no problems with it.
During the Olympic Games, it is common practice that international experts work together in the local anti-doping analysis laboratory. Therefore, the exchange of contaminated samples from Russian athletes for clean urine could only take place in a secret room that functioned officially as a storeroom, but was actually a second laboratory. Through a small hole in the wall, the sealed vials with the A and B samples were passed into this laboratory and processed there for urine exchange.
During a doping test, the athlete fills his urine into two small special bottles, specially made for doping tests by a Swiss company. After the urine has been filled in, the athlete closes the bottles himself, so that the twist-lock catches with a loud noise. The bottles are sealed and can only be reopened with a special machine in the doping control laboratory. In this case, however, the closures are destroyed. And this is where the next part of the Russian fraud system comes in. As the report by Wada investigator McLaren shows, among other things, the Russians had developed a method to open the special bottles of the Swiss company in such a way that the sealing of the lid was not destroyed. That seemed impossible until then. According to Grigori Rodschenkov, this was carried out by employees of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation FSB. During the Winter Games in Sochi, they were housed in a building right next to the laboratory.
That was part one of the doping cover-up system. The second part is a doping method developed by Grigory Rodchenkov, the so-called "duchess cocktail". Three micro-dosed anabolic steroids mixed with whisky for men or martini for women. As a result, the banned substances worked faster and could only be detected for a short time. Grigory Rodchenkov explained how this cocktail works on athletes:
Rodchenkov: My cocktail is not used to make athletes to top-level athletes. My cocktail does not allow you to go Olympic final in 100 meters. Another issue, my cocktail does not help you in final in 100 meters in athletics to became a medal winner. Not my cocktail. It's again your training and preparation.
But when you have the last one or two meters of the 100 meters, when you need to win 1000 or 100 of second, there is my cocktail. My cocktail allows you to switch from silver medal to gold medal.
And my cocktail is the last straw which turns the balance in your favour of winning medal. If you are feeling it in the only last stage. But you have to be prepared for cocktail. It is the same thing like you have a rocket, space fuel for rocket, for missile, but you put into the "bulldozer", "bulldozer" remains "bulldozer". Even with my cocktail.
"Of course it came from the very top, from the president"
Seppelt: Can you say more in general what was the role of the FSB prior to the games and during the games? Regarding to Mr. Blochin?
Rodchenkov: Blochin was controlling everything, that he installed all sort of bugs or hacking "tools" in Moscow laboratory in Sochi. Everything was controlled and recorded. "Smart view" program was installed in Sochi to control and to alarm any opening of "freezer", where B bottles were kept. They have a special interception that this alarm was switched off. So that they can take B bottle out and put B bottle back after swapping - without any recording.
Of course it came from the very top, from the president. Because only the president could engage FSB for such specific task.
Seppelt: Are you 100 percent sure that Vladimir Putin was aware of the doping cover-up scheme in Russia?
"Putin knew everything"
Rodchenkov: I am aware that Putin knows "full" and "sharp" details from Mutko (former russian sport minister, editor's note). And moreover Mutko told me that Putin remember my name very well in 2011. And again he was knowing everything. Because it was a very simple chain. I am reporting to Nagornykh (former russian vice sport minister, editor's note), Nagornykh reporting to Mutko, Mutko reporting to Putin. Because Putin would like to know everything. And Putin’s approach was: 'don't hide your problem, open your problem and threats and we do everything to solve your problems.' This was his approach.
Seppelt: So from your point of view is it absolutely clear that Putin was aware of the plans for the doping cover-up scheme for the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi?
Rodchenkov: Yes, he cannot deny it.
Seppelt: So what was the reason for that Putin was so interested in that, because of the meaning for the Olympic Games for Russia?
Rodchenkov: Of course, of course. Sochi games for Russia was a major project for Putin. Because he had nothing to demonstrate, only success in the Olympic Games - that's it.
Schültke: Is it correct that Nagornykh wanted to contaminate the sample of an Ukrainian Biathlete?
"He asked me, could we make clean sample dirty?"
Rodchenkov: Yes, yes, yes. You see, deputy minister Nagornykh was focused on winning at any cost. When we became able to open the bottle he was looking in other direction, for me it was shocking. He asked me, could we make clean sample dirty? For me it was absolutely unacceptable. But in April in 2013 we have so called biathlon champion race in Moscow, it was like a fancy competition. Very good atmosphere, it was many people, it was artificial snow and Nagornykh he gave order to RUSADA to collect samples from the Ukrainian athlete Vita Semerenko. No matter where she was.
Just collect the sample. And he knew the number of her kit. And he asked me could we do that. If we opened the bottle and replace content of A and B bottle. I was big and shocked because I turned hundreds maybe thousand of positives to negatives but never did otherwise. Could you imagine 20 years and doping control and no one even asked me to make negative positive. But Nagornykh did this. Could you imagine. Of course I told him that she is a top level athlete and we cannot just spike her urine.
We cannot do that. But again imagine that we have positive in Moscow, but two days after she is tested by international testing authority because she is top athlete and she belongs to international testing registered pool. And her sample is clean. How you can explain in Moscow she is positive, but after two days she is clean. We can undermine the whole Sochi project. And I convinced Nagornykh that he stepped in a dangerous situation, this is the wrong way. And he finally agreed with me that it’s not time. But he was so prophetic and he was so foreseen that the Ukrainian girl in Sochi will take gold medal and Russia will be second. And more over it was October 2012, it was Nagornykh, Rodionova and me - we were discussing medal plan for Sochi.
After three gold medals in Vancouver and Nagornykh told me, we will have 15 to 16 gold medals in Sochi. I was fully upset. How come? And they calculated 15 medals in Sochi. Two years before Sochi.
In the end there were 13 medals. In the meantime, four Russian winter sport athletes have been deprived of their medals due the state-sponsored doping program.
Grigory Rodchenkov was an athlete and chemist himself. He has tested various doping substances by himself. In 2006, the scientist became head of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory and thus became the linchpin for systematic doping of top Russian athletes. At the end of 2014, the whistleblower couple Stepanov showed in the ARD documentary "The Doping Secret: How Russia Makes its Winners" how the doping system worked from the athlete's side.
Laboratory director Rodschenkow was responsible for the other side. This is for the fact that the doped athletes were tested negatively during the controls. He devised a sophisticated system, developed a doping cocktail for which he had analysed the detection times and swapped positive samples for clean urine. The chemist told the Canadian investigator Richard McLaren, who had investigated doping in Russia for the World Anti-Doping Agency, about this fraud, which he carried out to a large extent, in testimony. Rodschenkow changed sides, became a leniency witness and fled from Moscow to the USA at the beginning of 2016.
Schültke: Approximately how many urine samples were in your lab when you left Russia?
Rodchenkov: It should be like maybe 2000. I have in computer everything. We can calculate it. But the most important thing, all samples which are retained in Moscow are analytically clean.
The very important thing is to check DNA for elite athletes. Who might substitute their urine in collection sites. This is the most important reason to check urine in our Moscow storage. Because you know Moscow anti-doping center, we were the last line of defense. And the major part of protection athletes was substitution at collection stage. Substitution for top level athletes should be done with urine from freezer. But very often urine from freezer was not available or athletes were not ready sometimes, some other clean athletes or coaches gave urine instead of athletes. It was corruption in RUSADA.
A few days after Rodchenkow’s escape, Vyacheslaw Sinew, the founder of the Russian anti-doping agency RUSADA, died unexpectedly. The cause of death is unknown - unlike his successor Nikita Kamayev. Almost two weeks after Sinew, he died unexpectedly of a heart attack. After Richard McLaren's report, the two deceased had withdrawn from the doping system he had identified.
Rodchenkov: Nikita Kamaev was killed. So we lost significant part of evidence and information, how the state program was operated outside the laboratory, how athletes were depended at collection side. That's it.
"What does it mean? It means that weightlifting should be suspended from the Olympics"
Schültke: How was the quality of testing in the doping control lab in London 2012 Olympics?
Rodchenkov: Very poor. Honestly laboratory in Harlow was not ready to detect new targets like long-term metabolites or ostarine or GW1516. For me it is absolutely strange why London laboratory disregarded the latest approaches and analyses. It was already published. But again. You know to confirm my words, you see how many positives were reported after the reanalysis of London samples. And it speaks for itself. The laboratory was not prepared. Then could you imagine: would laboratory be prepared during the London games it might be twenty positives in athletics and twenty positives in weightlifting. What does it mean? It means that weightlifting should be withdrawn or suspended from the Olympics games for let's say eight years.
Seppelt: Was there any sort of state plan or doping cover-up scheme or had still existed at that point to dope athletes or to cover up doping in Russia? How did it worked to prepare the athletes for 2008 and 2012 - particularly in athletics?
Rodchenkov: When we were prepared to London, to Beijing in 2008 it was. Oralturinabol. You think half pill Oralturinabol, next day half pill metanolon, then next day half pill oxandrolone. Again between Beijing in 2008 and London 2012 it’s like ages. It’s like a decade. There are dramatic changes, we controlled everything.
Schültke: Do you see any change in mentality nowadays in Russia regarding doping?
"Russia is still remaining doping country"
Rodchenkov: No, mentality is the same. The mentality of cheating and lying and denying. They still, you know they are "truth" for outside especially for Sebastian Coe (president of the International Association of Athletics Federations, editor’s note) or Craig Reedie (president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, editor’s note) or to Thomas Bach (president of the International Olympic Committee, editor’s note) that Russia make the big steps further, that now Russian athletes are the most clean in the world. It’s of course just subterfuge and some sort of propaganda. Because all sports officials who were involved and knew about dopings are untouchable, they still keep their positions. There is no retaliation for athletes. Do you know why athletes could tell truth about themselves, because they give gold medal back and then you have and then there is no retaliation.
You remain in your car, you remain in your apartment. Life is good. And then Russian people prepare another fake gold medal and you keep gold medal in your place in your home. So there are no changes at all. Russia is still remaining doping country. No changes at all.
Schültke: What does it mean for Russia and it's soul to compete under the neutral flag and without the national anthem and with neutral uniforms?
Rodchenkov: Nobody cares about this symbol, it is a symbolic thing and Russia, there is no choice, they are uniform and so in general neutral uniform will be easily accept without any, you know it's just a first wave of emotion and then everybody forget about - anthem, flag, neutral uniform. It is okay.
Schültke: So you don't think that this will hurt the Russians soul?
Rodchenkov: Absolutely not. The Russians soul is not hurt at all. It hurts only the Russian propaganda and weird political atmosphere.
Seppelt: How do you feel personally after all the threats towards your person?
"I worry about my family which I left in Russia"
Rodchenkov: I feel survived, I feel happy, I enjoy each new day that I am alive, that I am doing my favorite things . How I could estimate whether I’m safe or not. If somebody like a professional killer is nearby, you cannot estimate. I worry about my family which I left in Russia. I am worried about my children, my wife, about my dog - by the way.
Seppelt: Having experienced all the consequences, do you regret that you have unveiled the Russian doping system? Would you do the same if necessary? Would you be a whistleblower again?
Rodchenkov: I fulfilled very important thing in front of the universe. I showed how many problems we still have in sports and doping control. Somebody, someone should tell this, and I’m happy that I was in the center of doping control scheme and then later I changed everything and I disclosed the conspiracy. So I, no regret and I would do the same.
Schültke: After telling us your whole story and after telling us that you knew that you have to a your story sometimes, do you feel kind of shame having been part of this system in Sochi or in Russia of this doping system?
Rodchenkov: Why I should be all with shame? You know, it was two different men, one man that was in Sochi who was proud of such things. And now me talking to you after killing of my friend Nikita, after killing of Boris NemzowAfter the Sochi Olympic Games it was invasion of Ukraine and downtake of MH 17.
I am not let's say ashamed. I am telling people the truth, because all such things in sport are so much in line in the political and even historical things which may happen after success of the Olympic Games. Success in Sochi made Putin aggressive. There is no… any talks about moral or shame. Russia is a country where there is no any moral, no any shame. Unfortunately I am Russian. Is it clear?
This was the sports talk with whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, recorded by Andrea Schültke and Hajo Seppelt a few weeks ago. Grigory Rodchenkov was responsible for the practical implementation of the state-sponsored doping program in Russia and thus for years of large-scale fraud in sport. Then he switched sides and passed on his information. Grigory Rodchenkov currently lives in the witness protection program in the USA.