I attended a screening of the documentary film Icarus that included a Q & A after the screening with the star/director Bryan Fogel and producer Dan Cogan. The film focuses on the doping of athletes in sports by Vladimir Putin’s government in Russia and how it changed the way Olympic sports testing is done.
Bryan, who is also an amateur cyclist, wanted to see how easy it was to game the system and not get caught. It bewildered him how cyclists like Lance Armstrong could get away with doping and submit clean urine samples. His plan was to dope himself and film the experience, much like the documentary film “Supersize Me.”
WADA and anti-doping testing in Russia
After contacting a top doctor at WADA, ( the World Anti-Doping Agency) Bryan asked if he’d agree to test his urine. The doctor declined because it was against WADA’s strict protocol. Instead, he recommended that Bryan contact Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, who was the director of Russia’s state-sponsored WADA anti-doping program. Rodchenkov was the doctor who personally supervised the testing of Russian Olympic athletes in Sochi.
Rodchenkov agreed to test Bryan’s urine samples and helped him game the system to compete in France’s Haute Route. It takes place annually in the Alps and is considered to be the most brutal cycling competition in the world. Bryan had previously come in 14th without drugs but wanted to see if doping would improve his performance.
The bulk of Bryan’s communications with Rodchenkov took place over Skype. At one point, Rodchenkov came to visit him in the U.S. to pick up Bryan’s urine samples. Bryan then helped him smuggle them back to Russia to be tested. He turned out to be a likable and quirky character, which made it even more compelling to follow his storyline. Bryan and the production team formed a friendly relationship with him.
The Haute Route Race
Bryan competed in the Haute Route, passing the doping test, but failed to achieve a higher rank because of a mechanical issue with his bike that slowed him down.
Watching Bryan poke himself with needles over and over, getting bruised in the process, made me wonder why anyone would bother doping. Not to mention, trying to hide all the needle marks.
The plot takes a sudden turn
Icarus focuses on Bryan’s doping storyline for about 40 minutes into the documentary. Then, the Russian athletes were caught doping at the Sochi Olympics and banned from competing in Rio. Rodchenkov suspected Putin’s FSB (The Russian equivalent to the Soviet Union’s KGB) had put out a hit on him and asked Bryan to help get him out of Russia.
Bryan let Rodchenkov stay at his beach house in Malibu to lay low. While he was there, he found out one of his colleagues had mysteriously died from a heart attack in Russia. Later, the FBI arrested Rodchenkov and turned him into a cooperating witness against the Russian government.
He is now in witness protection because he blew the whistle on the extensive doping abuse that has been taking part in the Soviet Union and then Russia for the last 40 years.
Rodchenkov was clearly guilty of supervising the doping of athletes in Russia ordered by Putin. But, because he turned against his government, it tightened up the way WADA tests Olympic athletes to make sure the Games are fair.
Doping in the Olympics, professional sports, and amateur competitions is still widespread in the U.S. and internationally. The question is, will it ruin the Olympics and sports forever? The other alarming revelation was that Putin blatantly ordered the doping of his country’s athletes to take place. Athletes, doctors, government workers and others still risk execution if they defy Putin because his mission is to win at all costs. We know he’s meddled with our elections, the world’s economy, and has taken aggressive military actions all over the world.
Icarus wins the Academy Award
Icarus is a must-see documentary if you get the opportunity to view it. It won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 90th Academy Awards in 2018.
A Russian woman protests
During the Q & A session at the ArcLight Theater in Hollywood, a Russian woman in the audience stood up to ask a question. She immediately started accusing Bryan and his production team of spreading false propaganda about Russia and doping and was furious that Putin’s reputation was being soiled by the film’s release. She became so disorderly, she had to be escorted out of the theater.
The entire audience and the panel were stunned, but Bryan stayed calm. He told us this had never happened to them before in a screening.