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Russian Track and Field Athletes Banned From Rio Olympics

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

We can quibble about whether certain substances are in fact performance enhancing, and we point out that global anti-doping agencies don't always have the most due process-friendly testing and punishment schemes. What we can all agree on, though, is that you can't have one country's drug testing authorities surreptitiously swapping out tainted urine, destroying incriminating samples, and having drug testers threatened by federal security agents.

So it's hard to gather any sympathy for Russia's track and field team, which will be barred from the Olympics in Rio this summer, punishment for the largest drug scandal since East Germany was secretly doping its own athletes in the '60s, '70s, and '80s.

From Russia, With Dope

The ban was instituted by track and field's governing body, International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), and upheld by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). IAAF members were unanimous in voting that Russia had not done enough to "restore global confidence in the integrity of its athletes." That integrity was called into question when Grigory Rodchenkov, the director of Russia's anti-doping lab, revealed the lengths to which the lab went to hide athletes' positive drug tests during the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games:

Dr. Rodchenkov said that each night, a sports ministry official would send him a list of athletes whose samples needed to be swapped. To match the individual athletes to their anonymous samples -- which are coded with a seven-digit number -- Dr. Rodchenkov said that athletes snapped pictures of their sample forms, including the code, and texted them to the ministry, offering forbidden insight into whose urine was whose.

After receiving a signal that "the urines were ready," he changed from his lab coat into a Russian national team sweatshirt and left his fourth-floor office, typically after midnight. He checked that the coast was clear and made his way to Room 124, officially a storage space that he and his team had converted into a shadow laboratory.

There, he said, with the room's single window blacked out with tape, the switch would be made. A colleague stationed next door in the sample collection room would retrieve the correct bottles and pass them into the storage room through a circular hole cut through the wall near the floor, Dr. Rodchenkov said. During the day, he said, the hole was concealed by a small imitation-wood cabinet.

Absence of Adversaries

Rodchenkov estimated he and others swapped about 100 urine samples during the Sochi Winter Games, including 15 of Russia's 33 medal-winners. There will be no Russian medal-winners this time around and when the IAAF will allow Russian track and field athletes to compete again remains unclear. It will be the first time since 1984 that Russian athletes will fail to appear at the Olympics, and the first time an entire country's athletes have been barred due to doping. Not even the East Germans got hit with that kind of penalty.

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