To understand the Olympic Athletes of Russia, watch Icarus on Netflix
Like most huge geopolitical spectacles, Russian athletes competing at the 2018 Winter Olympics, despite the country being banned for doping, is complicated.
If you’re confused about how we got here, a good place to start is Netflix. The streaming service has just the documentary to get you caught up on the Russian doping scandal, and it has intriguing twists to boot.
Icarus follows the story of director Bryan Fogle, an amateur cyclist, who wants to prove that the tests meant to catch doping athletes don’t work. He concocts a plan to use performance enhancing drugs before competing in the most challenging contest for amateur cyclists, which uses routes similar to the Tour de France. To create a sophisticated doping plan and test his urine, Fogle forges an unlikely friendship with Grigory Rodchenkov, who at the time was helming Russia’s anti-doping laboratory.
Rodchenkov flies to the U.S. to smuggle containers filled with Fogle’s urine into Russia to test at his World Anti-Doping Agency-certified lab, but then the story takes a turn.
WADA (which sets international anti-doping testing standards) investigates Rodchenkov’s lab after a German news outlet airs a shocking report featuring whistleblower athletes who said 99 percent of Russian athletes doped. After WADA finds most of the allegations to be true in 2015, there’s another twist.
Fogle helps Rodchenkov, who is obsessed with George Orwell’s 1984, escape Russia as he fears for his life. He thinks Russian state agents will off him, even in the U.S., after the head of Russia’s anti-doping agency, Rusada, dies in 2016 from a mysterious heart attack.
“I certainly didn’t know when I started on this what it was going to lead to,” Fogle says in the film.
The documentary goes on to reveal in explicit detail how Russia cheated at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, with President Vladimir Putin’s knowledge, according to Rodchenkov, and follows the fallout of his confession, which, like a Russian doll, has many layers. Rodenchekov brought hard drives full of evidence when he fled, destroying his office computer before departing.
It’s that evidence, among other information, that led WADA to publish a report in July 2016, which states the Russian government conspired to help athletes cheat. WADA recommended all Russian athletes be banned from the Summer Olympics in Rio. But the International Olympic Committee didn’t do it. Of 389 athletes, 209 were allowed to compete as usual.
However, about four months after Rio, the IOC banned Russia from competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics. And yet, Russian athletes make up the third largest delegation in Pyeongchang. The IOC cleared 169 athletes (out of about 400) to compete under the moniker Olympic Athletes of Russia using the Olympic flag as their banner.
Rodchenkov reads excerpts from 1984 often in the documentary, but one, about doublethink in Orwell’s dystopia, perfectly describes today’s quandary in Pyeongchang.
“To know and not to know. To be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies … To forget whatever it was necessary to forget.”