Book Review: The Rodchenkov Affair: How I Brought Down Putin’s Secret Doping Empire

Rodchenkov negatively references several key people on the good side of this international doping saga. They include Dick Pound the former president of WADA, Vitaly Stepanov, another whistleblower and a doping control officer for the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, as well as award-winning investigative journalist Hajo Seppelt with ARD TV in Germany. Seppelt was instrumental in breaking the story to the world with the documentary, How Russia Makes Winners. When Athletics Illustrated contacted Pound, Stepanov and Seppelt to ask if they had any comments in response to Rodchenkov’s book, none had bothered to read it.

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  • Title: The Rodchenkov Affair: How I Brought Down Putin’s Secret Doping Empire
  • Author: Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov
  • Publisher: Penguin Random House UK
  • ISBN: 9780753553329-hardcover — 9780753553336 —paperback
  • Pages: 296

The Rodchenkov Affair by Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov is a self-penned biographical account of the greatest doping scandal in sports history. He played a major role in enabling dirty Russian athletes to “test clean” prior to international competitions. He was the head of the Moscow Laboratory as well as the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics on-site laboratory. He wasn’t just a cog in the system, he was the gear train that enabled widespread and state-supported doping.

No wonder, as the story begins in earnest when, at age 22, his mother injects him with a performance-enhancing drug at the family home. At the time, he was a student-athlete at Moscow State University. For the remainder of the book, the cringe-worthy “truth” is fired at the reader like a Kalashnikov 54mm unloading its rounds into Afghanistan.

By writing this book, Rodchenkov attempts to come clean. He doesn’t want forgiveness, as he is no hero. He is quick to point fingers, but he is even quicker to accept credit for bringing Russia down. By all accounts, however, he wasn’t the only whistleblower to end Russia’s participation in international sport.

It is true that he was partially responsible for the greatest systematic doping scandal in sports history and exposing his home country. The scandal is bigger than the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO), bigger than what the Dubin Inquiry unearthed at the end of the 1980s, bigger than Ma’s Army of China — heck, Russia is dirtier than the former East German state-sponsored program.

Rodchenkov is currently in exile in the US. He fled after the walls of the communist oligarchy began to close in on him. Not because he was part of the doping system, but because athletes were starting to get caught.  

Tampering with samples and swapping clean urine for dirty urine was no longer enough to avoid suspension.

Just as the British shocked Europe when they introduced the tank during WW1 (Mark 1), the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) — seemingly impotent for so many years — launched the Athlete Biological Passport (ABP). Now blood and urine tests didn’t just indicate substances, testers compared biological markers against normal standards that can indicate doping.

Putin’s “secret doping empire”

Although the title of the book is The Rodchenkov Affair: How I Brought Down Putin’s Secret Doping Empire, Rodchenkov never directly accuses Putin of ownership of the “doping empire” however, references him enough to throw the reader off the title sniff test. Putin was likely very aware, but was it his empire? Doping had been going on in Russia for at least as long as Putin has been alive, if anything he inherited it. Rodchenkov probably implicated Putin in the title to sell more books.

It appears Russia has a permanent cultural issue with integrity. A president-for-life would be wholly aware of the spending within its federal Ministry of Sport and where those dollars go. If not, Russia is more stumbling-down-the-stairs-drunk-on-vodka than we ever thought.

Dick Pound. Photo credit: Getty Images

It also may very well have been Putin’s doping empire — may be possible — but it could be any number of people; it’s a system, a culture passed down by the trough-dwellers. Some are now mysteriously dead, some jailed and some in exile. Rodchenkov got out when he could, before the remnants of the iron curtain coldly wrapped him in its emotionless embrace and ended his life or worse, sent him to jail for a violent purgatory.

His life continues to be in danger, so-much-so that he fled Mother Russia without his wife, also leaving behind two adult children who he will likely never see again.

At times it is difficult to have sympathy for the author. He could have walked away. He could have handed in his notice and taken up less exciting, less stressful, less nerve-wracking, and a less heart-wrenching career. Instead, he embraced his role as the last stop for athletes before they headed out to competition: If they test clean, they carry on. Should they test positive for performance-enhancing drugs, they do not compete, feigning sickness or injury. Should an athlete test positive in competition, Rodchenkov could make it go away.

Interestingly, former International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) President Lamine Diack of Senegal extorted Russian athletes to hide their positive tests too. He is in jail at the age of 87, incarcerated just one week ago in Paris. His son Papa Massata Diack is in Senegal in exile, sentenced too. Russians, it seems, are not the only pigs at the trough.

Rodchenkov attempts to sway the reader, not for their sympathy but worse for acceptance. The antagonist of course is Putin and not just Putin, but any number of corrupted individuals who all seem to be drunken, bribe-makers: The Politburo, the KGB, Ministry of Sport, the secret police. Rodchenkov repeatedly references George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The pigs were indeed feasting at the trough of sport with vacuous bravado.

WADA busts up the party

In 2015, the Anti-Doping Centre was suspended by WADA when the truth got out about the elaborate doping program at Sochi and London 2012.

According to Rodchenkov, he tells the unvarnished truth, but how much can the reader believe? His entire career is based on pure unadulterated dishonesty.

Rodchenkov negatively references several key people on the good side of this international doping saga. They include Dick Pound the former president of WADA, Vitaly Stepanov, another whistleblower and a doping control officer for the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, as well as award-winning investigative journalist Hajo Seppelt with ARD TV in Germany. Seppelt was instrumental in breaking the story to the world with the documentary, How Russia Makes Winners.

When Athletics Illustrated contacted Pound, Stepanov and Seppelt to ask if they had any comments in response to Rodchenkov’s book, none had bothered to read it.

“Rodchenkov probably did not like me because, inter alia, he knew that I knew he was lying when I interviewed him and because he was fired as a result of our report in 2015,” shared Pound.

Seppelt and Stepanov shared no ill will, but the pages of David Walsh’s book The Russian Affair are filled with the answers in a story just as incredible as The Rodchenkov Affair. A review will be available soon.

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