The new Netflix documentary Icarus explores one of the biggest doping scandals in recent history. Cyclist and filmmaker Bryan Fogel wanted to do a personal experiment. His plan was to dope and race on Haute Route event while evading positive tests in order to expose the shortfalls of the World Anti-Doping Agencies testing regime. Grigory Rodchenkov, the head of the WADA-accredited Moscow drug testing laboratory, was asked to help in Fogel’s scheme. What unfolded next was unexpected and shook the world of sport.
“When I set out to make the film, I could never have imagined where it was going to go,” Fogel told Indie Wire. “I wanted to lift the veil on anti-doping in sports. Lance Armstrong never failed a test until his own teammates ratted him out.”
Rodchenkov agreed to help Fogel after a Skype call. The film however became more than a simple personal experiment. Fogel uncovered a much bigger story with a lasting impact on sport, the Russian Olympic doping scandal.
“For me, the story was me going through on camera what pro athletes do,” Vogel said. “With this crazy Russian scientist advising me, which he shouldn’t have been doing. He was funny and compelling as he sees me evading testing and interviewing sports leaders and anti-doping officials.”
A cyclist's quest to beat the system.
An investigation into a global Olympic doping scandal.
— Icarus (@IcarusNetflix) August 4, 2017
The story began to evolve much more rapidly than originally anticipated. Rodchenko left Russia for the U.S. with a computer hard drive full of incriminating evidence that Russia’s Olympics team was extensively doping and using an elaborate evasion system to avoid testing positive test deployed since the 2014 Sochi Games.
“We were sitting on a nuclear bomb,” explained Fogel who went out and got needed funding to expand the scope of his film. “The only people who had this information were me and Grigory. It was scary when I understood how big it was, and what it could mean in terms of changing Olympic history. It was fraud on an international level that made Armstrong look like a needle. And I had Grigory’s life in my hands.”
The real-life drama that unfolded and caused many to lose faith in sport has been turned into the documentary Icarus where it can reach the screens of millions of viewers, exactly what Fogel wanted once he realized what was unfolding. You might want to pop a whole bag of popcorn and settle in before pressing play because this one’s sure to have you on the edge of your seat from start to finish.
For years, athletes who have competed against Russia’s best have known that the country raises its athletes in a system rigged by doping. When the details of the country’s systemic cheating structure became exposed late in 2015, it was revealed that the problem has been going on for decades and it didn’t involved just a clever cheating system between coaches and athletes, but rather it filtered all the way up to Russian president Vladimir Putin.
The incriminating evidence led to the Russian Athletics Federation being banned from all events including those at the 2016 Rio Olympics. While their was widespread support to entirely banning Russia from Rio, the International Olympic Committee decided to be more lenient and almost 300 Russian competed.
Icarus has it all from Cold War Era politics, to mysterious murders, to a decades-old crafty plan to con the entire world in athletic competition. On top of that, it features interviews with the man who claims to have cheated the Olympic Games.