In a Victory for Clean Sport, David Guttenplan Takes the Orange Jersey as USA CRITS 2018 Season Champion

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USA CRITS 2018 season champion David Guttenplan of the Support Clean Sport/Guttenplan Coaching Team earlier in his remarkable season. Photo by Lee McDaniels, USA CRITS.

On Sunday at the Gateway Cup in St. Louis, professional bike racer David “Gutt” Guttenplan finished with the orange Colavita Overall Leader Jersey on his back after becoming the USA CRITS 2018 season champion. Though Gutt and many observers had expected such an outcome due to his commanding lead going in to the final race, the victory nonetheless resonated with him and all those who care about clean sport.

“With the series, you just never know how it’s going to go,” said Gutt in a post-race interview. “I just have to give a big thanks to (teammate) Tyler Locke. He’s really stepped up, and he’s been getting up there every single time. It’s been great.”

Locke took sixth place overall and their Support Clean Sport/Guttenplan Coaching Team placed second in the team competition. The excellent results cemented their reputation as one of North America’s premiere cycling teams and delighted sponsor Support Clean Sport.

“We’re thrilled for Davey and these guys and all they represent,” said SCS Executive Director Oliver Catlin. “They faced some serious obstacles and have shown that it is possible for clean athletes to reach the podium. The team as a whole worked really hard to help get Davey to this point, and as a sponsor we couldn’t be more proud.”

Many find the personal stories of both Gutt and Locke compelling. Gutt suffered a serious accident while cycling in 2016 that left him in a coma for five days and in need of surgeries. Some wondered whether he would ever compete again. Locke has had to face his own personal obstacles, notably going sober with the help of the bike. He said that when he made a conscious choice to channel his energy into his riding his racing performance skyrocketed and turned him into the capable lieutenant he is today.

Catlin says he hopes the results help to diffuse the naysayers who don’t think clean athletes can compete in cycling. “We’ve never stopped believing that athletes who chose not to dope can still succeed in their sports, whatever those sports might be,” he said. “And when they do best their competitors, they can hold their heads high.”

As the team coach, Gutt echoed these sentiments in an interview prior to the season’s final race. “Doping takes the fun out of it,” he said. “I tell my guys that if you can’t be proud of your results, what’s the point?”

Catlin hopes to build on the success of the 2018 season by expanding Support Clean Sport’s involvement with the Guttenplan team and investing in other teams. With SCS having sponsored Team California Juniors and 706P, Catlin hopes the concept can grow and expand into new endeavors. “We will be fundraising in the coming months to raise money to support these worthy athletes and to help others follow in their paths.”

One new idea Support Clean Sport is considering in the coming year, says Catlin, is a program that helps addicts of various types find a new path through cycling. Such a program would likely include an addiction management campaign and cycling clinics specifically designed for people to combat their addiction problems.

As with Locke, participants in such a program would have a new avenue in which to put their energies and hopes. Gutt and Locke, as well as Coach Sean Wilson of Team California Juniors, have already signed on as willing instructors for such clinics.

“I’m excited about this concept and continuing to grow Support Clean Sport,” said Catlin. “But we can’t do it alone. We need people who care about cycling and clean sport, as well as those wanting to fight addiction, to step up and donate, in whatever amounts that they can, and to show their support for healthy and clean competition.”

Please consider donating what you can to this worthy cause; simply click on the Donate button in the upper right-hand corner of the Support Clean Sport homepage. Donations will go directly to team support and to the launch of our addiction clinics. Join SCS foundational sponsor BSCG (Banned Substances Control Group), a leading supplement and natural product testing and certification provider, in expanding the SCS concept. To learn more about SCS, visit the Support Clean Sport website, like Support Clean Sport on Facebook and follow SCS on Twitter.

David Guttenplan and Support Clean Sport On Eve of Big Victory

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Support Clean Sport Executive Director Oliver Catlin (center) joins David Guttenplan and Tyler Locke of the Support Clean Sport/Guttenplan Coaching Team for a practice ride on July 25 in Los Angeles.

David “Gutt” Guttenplan had a vision. He’d been a professional bike racer since 2003, specializing in criteriums, popular cycling races requiring a mix of speed, endurance, and strategy. And he wanted to commit himself even more fully to the sport. He realized he wanted to coach and ride, and in 2010 began working to put a team together. But he wasn’t looking to manage just any team; he wanted his riders to lift up the sport by showing that success can be achieved without turning to performance-enhancing drugs.

“I’ve seen the culture of the sport through all these years, and the one thing that’s always been near and dear to my heart is to do it the right way, because otherwise what’s the point?” he said in one recent interview. “I’d rather be doing something else if I’m going to be cheating.”

Gutt recruited a range of riders, from the young—new to the criterium circuit—to the accomplished—winners of established races. His coaching efforts focused on the less experienced of the group but to all he preached that doping was the wrong path. “Doping takes the fun out of it,” he said. “I tell my guys that if you can’t be proud of your results, what’s the point?”

Soon Gutt found a committed sponsor in Support Clean Sport (SCS), a grassroots movement initiated by the nonprofit/NGO ADR (Anti-Doping Research) and sponsored by BSCG (Banned Substances Control Group), a leading certification provider of a range of products such as supplements popular with elite athletes.

David Guttenplan heads into Sunday’s USA CRITS Series season finale, the Gateway Cup, with a commanding lead of more than 250 points. Unless something unforeseeable occurs, Gutt is likely to take the Colavita Overall Leader Jersey and become the USA CRITS 2018 season champion.

The victory, to be sure, will not just be a triumph for him but for his Support Clean Sport/Guttenplan Coaching Team. Some observers, such as Nathan at the blog A Cyclist in a Strange Land, say it will cement “the legacy of his Support Clean Sport/Guttenplan Coaching team as one of North America’s premier domestic cycling teams.”

“We’re incredibly proud of Davey and all that he has managed to accomplish with his team and his cycling,” said Oliver Catlin, Support Clean Sport Executive Director. “He has proven with his own dedication and drive that it is possible for a clean athlete to reach the podium.”

Catlin added that he also stands in admiration of the entire Support Clean Sport/Guttenplan team. He noted other riders have performed well this season, including Tyler Locke, who enters Sunday’s finale in a close fifth place. Locke has had to overcome his own obstacles, notably going sober 100% from alcohol, but he has seen his racing form skyrocket from channeling all that energy into his winning cycling performance!

Others on the Support Clean Sport/Guttenplan Coaching roster include Stefano Barberi, Adam Farabaugh, Benjamin Foster, Johnathan Freter, Coulton Hartrich, Marcos Lazzarotto, Steven Perezluha, Justin Prior, James “Jimmy” Schurman, Rolly Weaver and Scottie Weiss.

“It’s hard not be in awe of these guys,” said Catlin. “They’ve embraced high standards and embody everything good about sport, demonstrating that a clean approach can fuel teamwork and victory.”

Catlin encourages others to join Support Clean Sport and its proactive vision of clean sport. Anyone, from athletes and sports fans to companies and nutritionists, can be involved in the movement. To learn more about SCS, visit the Support Clean Sport website, like Support Clean Sport on Facebook and follow SCS on Twitter. Consider donating to this worthy cause; simply click on the Donate button in the upper right-hand corner of the Support Clean Sport homepage.

To see David Guttenplan “race for the orange” on Sunday, Sept. 2, tune in to a live broadcast of the event at USACrits.TV, https://usacrits.tv/.

Lives in the Balance: Why Doping Control Matters

As the Tour de France rolls onto stage 7, few in the general public know of the story of 21-year-old Linas Rumsas, but they need to consider it. Especially on this day, July 13, 2018, the 51st anniversary of cyclist Tommy Simpson’s death.

People ask us all the time why doping control matters. Some argue that it doesn’t and that we should just let folks use what they want. A doping free-for-all. Cynics might say that plenty of dopers have already escaped through the net in sports, at least for a time: Lance Armstrong, Tim Montgomery, Marion Jones, to name a few.

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Linas Rumsas was an up-and-coming cyclist whose life was cut short after he abused performance-enhancing drugs. Photo: Team Altopack-Eppela

The story of young Linas, a promising cyclist whose life was cut short after abusing performance-enhancing drugs, reminds us that doping can kill. We would be wise to remember that it has happened before. Linas’ story is one of the saddest we have come across and it powerfully demonstrates why many of us who have chosen to pursue anti-doping continue to do so. This one story illuminates in no uncertain terms the realities of what we all face with the scourge of doping, and yet outside of Italy and frequent readers of Cycling News, few sports fans have probably heard of it.

There have been others who have perished from doping. According to ProCon, which provides a comprehensive historical timeline of doping in sports, the first modern athlete chronicled to have died from doping was the Danish cyclist Knut Jensen at the Summer Olympics in Rome in 1960. Heat was the initial culprit but his autopsy found traces of Ronicol. ProCon describes Ronicol as an amphetamine, but Ronicol would be described more accurately as a vasodilator and can be used as an anti-ischemia drug. Though it is not on the 2018 WADA Prohibited List, it is similar to meldonium in many ways.

Stop to consider that the first drug to have been implicated in the death of an athlete in the Olympics in 1960 is not banned today! Ronicol, otherwise known as nicotinyl alcohol, is not prohibited as confirmed by the Global DRO. Its cousin meldonium wasn’t prohibited by WADA until 2016, when it caused hundreds of athletes to test positive. Some might like to think that doping is behind the peloton, but we fear it may still be in the middle. Just in a form we don’t currently define as doping, like Ronicol.

Fifty one years ago today on July 13, 1967, Tommy Simpson infamously died on the slopes of Mount Ventoux during Stage 13 of the Tour at the age of 29. His death was one of the central moments in anti-doping history. Shortly thereafter that same year the International Olympic Committee (IOC) created the IOC Medical Commission and the first drug testing began at the Olympics in 1968, with narcotics and stimulants making up the initial prohibited list. Steroids were not added until 1975.

There have been other examples of athlete deaths that have been seminal. MLB pitcher Steve Bechler, of the Baltimore Orioles, died during drills in 2003. Ephedrine was indicated as a contributing cause in his premature death, which played a role in the regulation of ephedrine as a dietary supplement ingredient in the United States.

Steroids have played a role in the demise of many young athletes, including Taylor Hooton, Efrain Marrero, and just two days ago, a young 18-year-old Irishman in Limerick. Numerous stories exist of athletes who went too far with blood doping, or performed transfusions the wrong way, leading to dire consequences. Many stories are out there but few are known to the broader sporting public.

Linas Rumsas’ story reminds us that the scourge of doping is still present and that it is just as deadly today as it was in 1967 when amphetamines derailed the promising life and career of Mr. Simpson.

Linas Rumsas is the son of Raimondas Rumsas, who himself was a professional cyclist and took third place in the 2002 Tour de France. After Raimondas’ wife Edita was caught with a van full of drugs on the way home from that Tour, they both received four-month suspended sentences in 2006. Raimondas later tested positive for EPO during the 2003 Giro d’Italia. Sadly, this experience did not seem to deter them from apparently assisting their two children with doping.

Linas rode for the Altopack-Eppela squad in Italy and had already been a national road race champion. But in May 2017, he died at age 21 of a heart attack. It was nearly 50 years to the day after Mr. Simpson had died.

Upon Linas’ death, police searched his family’s home and seized a number of banned substances and medications. In September 2017, his older brother Raimondas Jr. tested positive for the prohibited substance GHRP-6, a peptide that produces natural growth hormone. It seems a cocktail of banned substances and other medications were being used at the family home.

The result of all this has been one family torn apart, again, from doping. Perhaps doping didn’t matter to the Rumsas family either until their son died. But Linas didn’t just die, if the allegations in this case hold true. He died as a result of family support and encouragement to dope.

It gets worse. In the course of the investigation, six people have been arrested in an apparent team-sponsored doping program including the team owner, directeur sportif, pharmacist, and trainer, who stand accused of providing drugs to riders. Seventeen other people are being investigated. Sadly, however, it is too late for Linas.

Unfortunately, the recent decision to allow Chris Froome to ride again with no sanctions after testing positive for elevated levels of salbutamol has called into question the validity and utility of the anti-doping system, again, at least in some people’s eyes. WADA has tried to explain the reasoning now, including clarifying the levels (1,428 ng/ml of urine, when adjusted for specific gravity, which is above the decision limit of 1,200 ng/ml). The reasons may not satisfy everyone, or anyone, but Froome’s case is certainly not a reason to give up on anti-doping.

Linas’ story personifies why giving up on anti-doping is simply not an option and should remind us all that doping is a significant matter. In fact, it is all the more reason to recognize that the failures of the anti-doping system are largely due to a lack of resources and money. For that to change, more people will need to truly understand what is at stake when athletes dope and to demonstrate the will to do more to combat the problem.

– Oliver Catlin

2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games Review

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Don Catlin, M.D., at Vancouver 2010 Opening Ceremony – Photo by Oliver Catlin

We watched with the rest of the world as the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games unfolded. In the face of tense politics, doping scandals, and other controversy, the Olympic ideals still shined through, sometimes in unexpected ways. Having been fortunate to attend six amazing Winter Olympic Games (Don got to go to seven, I think), we figured why not provide some perspective on these. Here is our 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games Review.

Most Amazing Victory – Ester Ledecka. Who knew someone could win a gold medal in snowboarding and skiing! Some people don’t think that the two sports are compatible, some don’t even want both sports on the same mountain. This woman just went out and ripped it up, twice, however many planks were strapped to her feet. Well done, Ester.

Clean Athlete Awards – Jessica Diggins and Kikkan Randall. In an Olympics marred by the Russian doping scandal, we always appreciate it when you can literally see that athletes are clean. Not that we advocate that a visual determination replace anti-doping testing, but some people you can just tell are not doping. We thoroughly enjoyed watching these ladies win clean, and with amazing smiles! We also appreciate the other courageous cross-country skiers who signed the letter in 2016 demanding a stronger stance on doping, including notably the four Russian women who signed. Thanks to all of you for working to defend your sport from the scourge of doping.

Classiest Athlete – Yevgenia Medvedeva. OK, we admit we watched the ladies figure skating final and it was pretty amazing. The talent and class displayed by all the young ladies is unbelievable. However, one shined above the rest. Despite missing the gold medal by a heartbreaking 1.31 points that even experts could not decipher, this woman took disappointment with amazing class for an 18-year old. She genuinely embraced her younger upstart Alina Zagitova and accepted her silver medal with a smile. She could be overheard saying she “did everything she could.” That statement represents what Olympic athletes are all about. We don’t know much about this Russian athlete otherwise, but in PyeongChang this little Anna Karenina showed enormous class.

Most Notable Olympic Farewell – Lindsey Vonn. Although you leave the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Games with a bronze medal, which most people could only hope for, you will always be the golden girl of American skiing. You took yourself to the pinnacle of your sport and beyond, and you brought your country with you. Along the way you’ve inspired generations of Olympians for years to come. We wouldn’t be surprised to see a woman like you one more time in Beijing four years from now, but if not thank you for all the amazing Olympic moments.

Strangest Doping Incident – Doping in Curling, really? We thought people drank beer during curling, but doping? Of course it would be an Olympic Athlete from Russia with meldonium as the offending substance, such perfect irony.

Ugliest Controversy – The ugliest controversy in these Olympics goes to the argument between Dick Pound and others in the IOC over whether or not to allow the Russian delegation to be permitted to fly the state colors during the closing ceremonies. It took long enough to finally get some kind of ban enacted and the corresponding statement made that state-sponsored doping is unacceptable, and it was going to be overturned during the Games? Way to go Dick Pound for sticking up for clean sport, as always! Or should we thank the second Olympic Athlete from Russia for doping and closing the door on that argument.

Most Inspiring Olympic Athlete – One athlete that epitomized the ideals of the Olympic movement and displayed them proudly in every fiber of his being by bringing athletes from all nations together sadly was not present in PyeongChang, but he was there is spirit. And his spirit we know will continue to inspire generations of Olympians for years to come. The Olympic Family lost Steven Holcomb, a beloved member of the bobsled community, in May 2017. But in the true spirit of the Olympic movement he went down the track many times in PyeongChang in the form of tribute bracelets on the wrists of many of his sliding colleagues, his parents cheering with tears in their eyes in the stands. Despite not being present, this man, and his spirit, made for the most inspiring Olympic athlete of this Games. We wish we could have known him and been inspired by his spirit.

Most Amazing Olympic Moment – It was hard to miss the unity demonstrated at the Opening Ceremonies with South Korea and North Korea marching together as one. This was a powerful symbol of the peaceful celebration of sport that the Olympics represent. We appreciate that this unity was achieved during the Games, and I think we all hope the peace was more than just for show and lasts.

The Olympics are truly an amazing gathering of athletes from all different countries, politics, races, sizes, sexes, orientations, faiths, and more. For all these moments and more, the Olympic Games remain one of the most amazing spectacles of human interaction and accomplishment in this world. They deserve to be truly appreciated, celebrated, and protected. We can’t wait for the years to pass to see what amazing feats and memorable moments Tokyo, Beijing, Paris, and Los Angeles will produce.

WADA EPO Testing Methodology Remains Sound and Strong Despite Colvert Case Discussion

My father, Dr. Don Catlin, has always been one of the most frank and open experts in the anti-doping industry. That is in part what attracts media to him still today. Yet, this style poses challenges as intents and comments can sometimes be misused. His comments have been used recently to suggest that there are flaws with the EPO drug-testing process in place today. To clarify, the WADA EPO testing methodology remains sound and strong despite the Colvert case discussion.

The case of Steven Colvert has been discussed as a potential example of a case that demonstrates the flaws in the WADA EPO testing methodology, but really it is an example of the complexity of the EPO test and why thorough analysis is needed to establish solid results—which the results in this case appear to be. Confusion can arise when visual analysis is considered alone, or when results are not considered in their entirety or without the benefit of scientific tools. To understand the realities of the Colvert case, one must first gain an understanding of the science involved.

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Erythropoietin (EPO)

EPO testing today includes the use of three primary methods; IEF, SDS-PAGE and SAR-PAGE. All three methods have been carefully validated and peer reviewed across multiple laboratories and they have been in use for many years. There is an array of research showing the breadth and capability of the methods. We have published papers based on the seminal methods Dr. Francoise Lasne and other colleagues in the doping control industry have created in this complex realm of science. We certainly would not have based our own research on these techniques if we did not believe the methods to be valid and strong.

The EPO testing methodology is outlined in the WADA Technical Document – TD2014EPO. We recommend that those who wish to completely understand the methodology review the document. The harmonized methodology outlined is designed to create consistency in results between laboratories. There is an image on page 11 that is useful in evaluating Colvert’s results.

This complexity of EPO sport drug testing stems from the reality that EPO is a naturally present substance in the human body. This requires methods to be able to distinguish natural EPO from synthetic, or exogenous, forms. The three EPO testing methods evaluate band patterns with variable shading that migrate from a natural EPO pattern when a drug is used.

It is pretty easy to see a positive when therapeutic quantities of a drug are used as there are large migrations in the band patterns. The results are much more difficult to visually determine when an athlete has microdosed, or when an athlete has stopped using in an attempt to clear the drug from the system, as these situations present band migration patterns that can be very subtle and difficult to distinguish visually from negatives.

It is important to realize that EPO testing does not rely on subjective visual analysis of band migration patterns. There is underlying science applied in the data review process to take visual subjectivity out of the equation. Densitometry, defined as the quantitative measurement of optical density in light-sensitive materials, is performed to scientifically evaluate the shading of bands. GASepo—a software solution for quantitative analysis of digital images in EPO doping control, has been developed to present a “method of robust calculation of the cut-off line, band segmentation and classification algorithms.” So, there is sound quantitative science applied beyond visual review of results.

The recent documentary Troubling Science – Steven Colvert Doping Conviction, as well as the October 26, 2016 article that preceded it, did not adequately consider the underlying science in our view. The response from our esteemed colleague Dr. Christiane Ayotte, Laboratory Director at the WADA-accredited laboratory in Montreal, outlined the scientific conclusions made and included references to the densitometry and software applications used to produce the results such as this image.

The Norwegian authors of the 2016 article suggest that Colvert’s SAR-PAGE results are not indicative of EPO drug use based on his lane being “not much different from other lanes.” They discuss the diffuse staining above the blue line, which was used to determine a positive result for Colvert, as a standard staining anomaly that PAGE testing is subject to with different sample conditions. That conclusion discounts the fact that sample conditions are standardized prior to analysis and it also fails to consider that the staining that appeared in Colvert’s lane did not appear for other negatives in the sample group run at the same time under the same conditions.

Having performed the EPO testing methods in our own labs, we are certainly familiar with staining challenges. Indeed, the 2-3 day tests that are performed are highly sensitive and require extremely skilled analysts in order to create bands that are consistently free from what WADA describes as, “spots, smears, areas of excessive background or absent signal in a lane that significantly interfere with the application of the identification criteria.” In such circumstances, the WADA technical document calls for “invalidating the lane.” The SAR-PAGE results that include Colvert’s sample appear to be an excellent model of results that are free of any staining anomalies.

When the documentary was filmed, Don was asked to visually evaluate Colvert’s SAR-PAGE results, with the filmmaker pointing and asking if Colvert’s looked negative. Don ultimately agreed with that assertion, going on to say that he has seen 20 like it and that the lab must not know what it is doing. A rather astounding statement on its own.

When I was shown Colvert’s SAR-PAGE results, I was able to visually determine the positive sample. To me the slight diffuse staining above the blue line is visually different than the other negative samples. Perhaps my 40-year-old eyes are better than Don’s as he approaches the 80-year milestone later this year. This shows that two people with expertise in evaluating EPO testing results can come to different visual conclusions, which reinforces the importance of the underlying science used to properly determine a positive or negative result.

Colvert’s SAR-PAGE results are an example of the subtle migration patterns that make EPO testing complex and difficult to properly evaluate visually. The peaks laid over SAR-PAGE results by the software application help in the results review process and take subjectivity out of the equation as this image shows with Colvert’s sample on the left, a positive control in the middle, and a negative at right.

Furthermore, the IEF results in Colvert’s case are also indicative of the presence of exogenous EPO. This test requires the two densest bands to be above the line and in Colvert’s sample there are actually three above the line making the visual results easy to recognize. So, two separate validated testing methodologies were used to establish Colvert’s results.

It should also be noted that two different laboratories confirmed these results. This is in fact required under the WADA technical document in order to avoid the reporting of false positives that could be subject to intra-laboratory differences. Both laboratories came to the same positive conclusion.

Some paranoid theorists might point to laboratory malfeasance painting pictures of scandalous anti-doping scientists purposefully contaminating samples. That notion is absurd as our colleagues in anti-doping laboratories are among the most ethical scientists we know. The recent Russian doping debacle and the gross ethical transgressions of our old friend, former Russian laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov, have called into question the ethics of the anti-doping industry as a whole, one of the most unfortunate ramifications of his actions. Yet we would point out that even Grigory considered it anathema to purposefully taint an innocent athlete’s urine and he refused to do so despite direct orders from above.

What does bother us about Mr. Colvert’s case is not the results, but rather the vehement and passionate defense Mr. Colvert has lodged on his own behalf. His words, and his strong statements in defense of clean sport, are certainly convincing. But we have seen such convincing statements before, from both innocent and guilty athletes. Even stars like Alex Rodriguez and Lance Armstrong told convincing tales once. These stories are one of the most difficult elements we confront in anti-doping.

The Colvert case discussion demonstrates the complexity of the EPO test and data review process. Even well-meaning, qualified scientists, including Don, can be critical of it in certain circumstances. Yet at its core, and through the complexity, the WADA EPO testing methodology remains sound and strong.

Don and I would like to extend our apologies for the remarks about the Cologne WADA accredited laboratory, which were not intended to be disparaging. The Cologne laboratory and staff are some of the most capable, ethical and committed partners in the global fight against doping, and we very much respect their undeniable work as leaders in the industry.

Response to Grigory Rodchenkov and Vladimir Putin on Russian Doping Debacle

Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony – Photo by Oliver Catlin

We welcomed reading the Sept. 22 New York Times opinion piece from Grigory Rodchenkov on Russia’s state-sanctioned doping and the response to date by the Olympic community. Vladmir Putin has now added his voice to the discussion.

Grigory’s comments clarifying the direct involvement of the Russian sport minister in the country’s nefarious doping activities are very important, as that has been difficult to prove. Grigory also shares what our position has been for some time, that as a result of its state-directed doping Russia should be sanctioned and not allowed to compete as a nation in the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang but demonstrably clean Russian athletes should be allowed to compete under a neutral flag.

While we appreciate much of the perspectives Grigory shares, and also his apology to those he disappointed since we fall into that group, we still have some questions regarding his explanation and reasoning. The biggest question remains: Why did he participate in Russia’s fraudulent state-directed doping for so long without trying to expose it earlier on ethical grounds, and exactly how long was the activity going on?

Grigory begins his piece saying he escaped Russia to expose to the world the Russian doping activities in hopes of leading to change. He laments that his hope for change is fading due to a lax response. He notes that Russia has yet to admit to supporting the doping activities or provide evidence to demonstrate the specifics of what occurred, part of the recommended reforms the Olympic authorities have requested. He points out the oddity that none of the commissions investigating the case had sought comment from him until September. This is certainly unfortunate if true.

He then goes on to unequivocally explain that Vitaly Mutko, a deputy prime minister and former minister of sport, and other government officials were directly involved in the doping activities, saying Mr. Mutko “knew about, and was critical to the success of, Russia’s doping program.” The involvement of the state and the ability to demonstrate it has been debated by some to date and has made it easier to support a less stringent response for those so inclined. Grigory, as a key witness, adds important clarity as to the direct involvement of government authorities in the Russian doping agenda.

Grigory goes on to describe himself as the witch in the witch-hunt, and we agree with that notion in part as he was most likely not the mastermind behind this affair. Yet we are not ready to accept his absolution of guilt. After all, from an ethical standpoint there are still many questions remaining as to why Grigory did not come forward earlier to expose the truth behind the Russian doping activities and halt his own involvement in them. There are also big questions as to how long the state-sponsored doping has been ongoing that are of significant concern.

Grigory describes himself as a victim of the system suggesting that he did not have a choice but to be involved in the doping activities. He compares this to the clean athletes that also do not “have much choice but to cheat, even if some did so enthusiastically.” He suggests that the Russian system demands compliance and that people face serious consequences if they do not comply with directions from superiors or the state. He recounts the sudden, mysterious deaths of two of his colleagues that were involved in Russia’s doping system, saying that they were not coincidental.

We do not doubt, nor discount, the need to comply with the demands of the state in Russia or face dire consequences. We understand that careers, and in fact lives in certain circumstances, are at stake for non-compliance.

For Grigory, or for Russian athletes, a sad choice is suggested: Follow the directions of the state, sacrificing your ethics in the process, if you want to be successful in your career. The other option seems to be to leave the country to pursue your trade, whether it be science or athletics. Leaving ones country and life behind is perhaps a more difficult choice to make than sacrificing ones ethics, but that is a choice that some people in similar circumstances have made. What a horrible decision to have to make.

We noted recently in our commentary on the documentary “Icarus” that there are allegations of state-sponsored doping in the Soviet Union and Russia going back to 1988 and before, when Victor Uralets was the laboratory director from 1980 to 1992. Elliott Almond reminded us of this on May 13, 2016 in The Monterey Herald in his interview with Victor the week following the revelations of Russian doping in The New York Times. Grigory was hired by Victor and eventually succeeded him as director of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory.

A Russian magazine Smena had revealed allegations of 1988 pre-testing occurring on the ship ‘Mikhail Sholokhov,’ docked 60 kilometers from Seoul in an effort to explore whether Russian athletes would pass drug tests during the Olympics. As Elliott writes, this was “one of the most startling revelations that attracted little attention… after the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.” An L.A. Times piece from March 24, 1989 describes the Smena article and recounts a startling story told by the young anonymous Soviet athlete interviewed by the youth magazine.

“They knew what kind of ‘vitamins’ these were,” said the athlete, who asked not to be identified. “And that if you refused, you’d be thrown off the team. . . . Now I’m practically an invalid . . . constant pains . . . my whole hormonal system is destroyed, my health is ruined . . . and my life is still ahead of me. I would have liked to become a mother.” For those who question why we should fight against doping, this one personal story should provide a powerful answer.

Victor verifies the veracity of the pre-testing claims and the apparent purpose, in Elliott’s article and also importantly noted that he left his position and came to the United States because he did not believe what he was being asked to do was ethical or safe. “By the time I realized it is not ethical or safe, I decided to leave,” Victor is quoted as saying. “I have a similar job here but without that embarrassment involved with cheating.” He goes on to say, “It is repeating itself. It is a huge embarrassment. It is an embarrassment on a global scale.”

Is it repeating itself or did it never end?

As we pointed out in our earlier discussion on “Icarus,” Don, and others had concerns that doping activity was occurring going back to the Soviet era. Manfred Donike, one of the greatest anti-doping scientists in history, had become suspicious in 1988 of Soviet pre-testing during the Olympics in Calgary where on the street he ran into Victor, who was there unbeknownst to his international doping control lab colleagues. Later, Don and other colleagues became aware of the Smena allegations of pre-testing of Soviet athletes; Don even recalls a photo of Grigory coming off the boat.

While there was suspicion that these activities could be part of a larger Soviet doping strategy there was never anything actionable to address. There had been no proof presented that we can recall that could clearly demonstrate state-sanctioned doping was occurring in the 1980s, or in the years since. As Grigory points out, that proof has yet to be provided by Russia even for the most recent endeavors.

But Grigory, we must ask, why did you not opt to do the same thing that Victor did? Why did you not come out earlier to expose the scandal for the benefit of clean athletes? Why did you wait until your life was threatened? You could have come to us at any point and we would have done everything possible to help you expose whatever was occurring in the right way–and do what was possible to protect your family in the process. You chose not to take that path, and that is unfortunate. Now you want to wash your hands of any responsibility?

The New York Times article of May 12, 2016, “Russian Insider Says State-Run Doping Fueled Olympic Gold” by Rebecca Ruiz, described your activities as “the apex of a decade-long effort to perfect Russia’s doping strategy at international competitions.” You have admitted to not only allowing your testing to be used as a tool in the state-directed doping activities, but to actually providing the drugs involved! We would really like to know the extent of what was going on back to the 1980s and how you were involved since then.

For us to consider that you were complicit somehow in Soviet and Russian doping from the 1980s through recent years makes our spine tingle. We were your friends, your colleagues. We even worked on collaborative anti-doping efforts with you including a groundbreaking U.S. – Soviet partnership in 1988 described in the New York Times at the time as “the first major attempt by each country to eliminate the use of performance-enhancing drugs like anabolic steroids.”  All that seems like a fraud now, sadly.

In “Icarus,” Grigory briefly alludes to challenges we have faced in the United States with doping athletes. In the 1980s the USOC’s now infamous “education” program was used to explore how to dope athletes and beat the drug tests. When Don uncovered the reality behind the program, for which he was doing the testing, he immediately stopped the work and demanded change.

His career was potentially on the line, but thankfully his life was never threatened. We understand the ethical dilemma Grigory faced, but we can’t profess to truly understand the circumstantial dilemma that the threat of the state adds to the equation.

Courageous whistleblower athletes Yuliya Stepanova and her husband, Vitaliy, did understand the risk and nonetheless elected to come forward. They are to be lauded for helping to expose the sordid Russian doping affair. As we noted in our earlier statement on “Icarus,” the athletes courageously stepped forward to demand change themselves and took action. Their strength is a powerful force in confronting state corruption and impelling the system to change.

We share the opinion that the Olympic family must adequately respond to this demand for change and that it has yet to do so. Prohibiting Russia from achieving glory at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang as a penalty for its involvement in the establishment of a doping program seems justified. We advocated for that step to be taken before Rio. Fines are not adequate and set a dangerous precedent. Allowing Russian athletes that are proven clean to compete under a neutral flag reinforces support of clean athletes while a Russian ban would enforce a deservedly harsh penalty on the state.

We remain hopeful the exposure of the Russian doping scandal will result in positive changes that will reinforce the protection that clean athletes deserve. Grigory could help further by explaining what was happening before Sochi and the mouse holes were drilled and the bottles tampered with and the positive test results covered up and the clean athletes denied their victories. He could help shed some light on the historical realities of the Soviet and Russian doping program going back to the 1980s and 1990s. This information might help us to avoid state-sponsored doping in the future, by Russia or some other country willing to ride roughshod over the integrity of Olympic sport.

Russia is now requesting that Grigory be returned home to face trial for his actions. If he is sent back he will surely be imprisoned, or worse, and his knowledge of what really happened will be lost. What he knows is important to the future of clean sport and he should be given the opportunity to finish telling his story.

On Nov. 9, Russian President Vladimir Putin commented on the Russian doping allegations, suggesting among other things that the doping scandal is a U.S. plot aimed at swinging the upcoming Russian presidential election against him. He is quoted in part as follows:

“Here is what worries me: the Olympics start in February, and when are our presidential elections? In March. There is a strong suspicion that this is all happening in order to create a situation useful to some, one of disappointment for sports followers and sportsmen in which the state allegedly participated in violations. Therefore, there is strong suspicion that in response to our alleged interference in their election they want to create problems in the election of the President of Russia, which, if so, is very bad, as it undermines the very meaning of the Olympic movement.”

President Putin, the eyes of the world have already been opened to the reality that there was high-level support for the doping that occurred in your country. Independent international parties under the auspices of the World Anti-Doping Agency carried out the process of investigating and reporting the reality of the abuses that occurred. The exposed Russian doping scandal is not a U.S. plot and the good people of the Lausanne laboratory were not part of the subterfuge. It is clear this was a systemic scheme perpetuated on sport by Russia to subvert Olympic competition. The worldwide reaction to this affront represents a global fight for the integrity of Olympic sport, led in part by Russia’s own athletes.

Indeed, part of the beauty of Olympic sport is that it transcends politics, which is all the more reason to protect it. In your own words, “sport as well as culture should be beyond politics, because it is a bridge that unites people”–yet you seek to politicize it. Doping degrades and destroys sport, it ruins the lives of talented athletes, and it undermines the unity and goodwill that international sport generates. As you point out, “a sports match should be honest, otherwise it loses all meaning. Interest in it disappears.”

President Putin, we appreciate your passion for sport and your aim to ensure Russia remains a global leader in sport. We hope you realize that in order to accomplish that goal a true embrace of the Olympic ideals and a real commitment to support clean sport are required.

Catlin Perspective on Netflix Documentary ‘Icarus’ and Russian Doping

By Oliver Catlin

Icarus coverWith the high-profile “Icarus” documentary now available on Netflix and in selected movie theaters, I wanted to take a moment to provide perspective on some points my father, anti-doping pioneer Dr. Don H. Catlin, and I have considered in regards to “Icarus” and Russian doping in general.

We offer a warning to those who have not yet seen the film that the following contains some spoilers.

Participation in ‘Icarus’ Documentary

When a documentary maker contacts my father looking for help for an anti-doping piece, he tries to lend his support and expertise whenever possible. He did so with Bryan Fogel, even though he was unfamiliar with Fogel’s previous work. In his request for participation, Fogel stated that the primary aim of his film would be a historical review of anti-doping scientific developments and a discussion of my father’s many achievements in the field and anything else my father wanted to discuss. Fogel also mentioned an interest in doping himself prior to riding in a top amateur cycling race to hopefully demonstrate he could beat the anti-doping system. “You are the expert on the subject—I am the filmmaker… let’s discuss and formulate a schedule and a plan and hopefully be aligned!” he wrote in his pitch.

As a key expert at the highest levels of sports drug testing for more than three decades, Don was excited to have an opportunity to share his historical insights about a myriad of professional experiences and developments in the field. Though he hesitated at the thought of helping someone to dope or attempt to game a system he had helped to build, he found himself curious how doping might impact someone in a real-world race environment. Fogel, however, was eager to discuss how difficult it was to evade detection and where the current holes in the system might be and how they could be exploited. Don shared some discussion with Fogel about the filmmaker’s ideas, but orchestrating the doping activity or trying to demonstrate that the current anti-doping system could be thwarted was not something my father was interested in doing.

About Grigory Rodchenkov

Over the years, my father has crossed paths with many other capable, dedicated scientists in the anti-doping field. He has enjoyed working with this committed group to help build the best anti-doping system possible for the protection of sport and the athletes. When Fogel asked if there was anyone he knew who might be able to help with his doping agenda, my father believed his dedicated colleagues, especially those in WADA-accredited labs, would decline as he did. Without question, most of them have high ethical standards and scrupulous laboratory practices, and take pride in their anti-doping work. He could think of only one person who might be willing to assist Fogel: Grigory Rodchenkov, then the director of Russia’s anti-doping laboratory in Moscow.

My father had known Rodchenkov for many years and respected his scientific work but over time was less certain of his ethics. While my father could never have imagined how extensive the Russian state-sponsored doping and its cover-up were at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics under the direction of Rodchenkov, he did believe Rodchenkov was operating in a different realm than the rest of his colleagues.

My father and others in the anti-doping community had been suspicious of Russia’s doping activity for many years. Prior to the airing of the earth-shattering ARD exposés in Germany in 2015 and 2016, allegations of widespread malfeasance in Russian track and field were publicly reported in 2014 with the help of courageous athletes by the ARD’s award-winning journalist Hajo Seppelt.

Some Context About Russian Doping

Russian state-sponsored doping of its top athletes has likely been going on for years. At one point in “Icarus,” Fogel raises the possibility that it goes all the way back to 1968. Thanks to the Russian magazine Smena, we know that in 1988, prior to the Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, the Soviet team was pre-tested aboard a ship offshore. The Soviets purportedly wanted to ensure their doped athletes could pass the IOC tests. Victor Uralets, the director of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory from 1980 to 1992, essentially corroborated this story publicly in 2016 and indicated that he left the lab because he did not believe what he was being asked to do was ethical or safe. He now works at a testing lab in Northern California where he no longer has to deal with what he described as the embarrassment involved with cheating. We commend Victor for having the courage to leave a corrupt system.

In 2002, at the Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City, two Russian cross-country skiers, as well as a Spanish cross-country skier, were suspended after testing positive for darbepoetin alfa, a new form of the blood-booster EPO, or erythropoietin. It was the first time the test, developed by the French scientist Dr. Françoise Lasne, had been employed successfully. My father, who oversaw the drug testing at these Olympics, martialed the introduction of this new test that produced these historic positive results. Perhaps these early findings were merely the tip of the iceberg in the larger scheme of Russian doping that has been unveiled.

A Silver Lining

One small bit of silver lining loosely discussed in “Icarus” is the actual effects of doping on Fogel’s cycling performance, which decreased the year he rode dirty. By originally dedicating himself to training, proper nutrition, and riding clean, Fogel came in 14th place in the Haute Route Alps in 2014, 4th in his 40 – 49 age class. With a focus on doping, beating the system, and riding with a dirty mentality the following year, he came in 27th place and 12th in his age class. While a mechanical issue impaired a direct comparison of the two performances, we are left to wonder what the real effect of his doping might have been. Did it improve performance or did it hinder it, as Fogel’s results appear to show?

Fogel described it being easier to train and recover when he was doping, that the banned substances made it mentally easier to perform at a high level. When you are in a race situation and constantly challenging your maximum capability, however, is such an effect really beneficial? Or could the mental strength necessary to overcome suffering exhibited by clean riders sometimes actually enhance performance more than banned drugs? The mental capacity to deal with suffering and pain is vital in the grueling sport of cycling, and we wonder if that is actually diminished if one makes the sport easier by doping.

Many people will probably view “Icarus” and be dismayed as we were by its sordid tale of Russian doping, but we are also buoyed by the larger picture. We must remember it was not Rodchenkov or Fogel who were responsible for unveiling the ugly truth of state-sponsored Russian doping; it was the courageous athletes caught in its web, such as Yuliya Stepanova and her husband Vitaliy, who at great risk to themselves came forward to expose what was happening. The athletes themselves are driving change and endorsing clean sport more and more, and that is extremely powerful.

Oliver Catlin is President of BSCG (Banned Substances Control Group), a leading dietary supplement testing and certification provider since 2004. A graduate of UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, he has worked as an executive in the anti-doping and dietary supplement industries for nearly fifteen years.