For the past few months I have thought that I needed to stretch my Olympic legs a little bit and get a little more history and knowledge under my belt. To do that, I am going to be taking a look at films, books, and other media that cover current and historical Olympic information. I'll pepper these in throughout the lean months and hopefully get you interested in these great pieces of media, as well!
Our first piece is the 2017 documentary Icarus. This actually won an Academy Award this year for best documentary, and after watching it, I would have to agree. It was certainly never boring and provides a lot of eye-opening insight into the hottest topic in the Olympic world right now: Russian state-mandated doping.
The nutshell, if you want to see this yourself: Bryan Fogel leads this documentary as a man who seeks to find out how high-profile athletes like Lance Armstrong manage to pass doping tests while still injecting themselves with performance-enhancing drugs. To do this, he decides to enlist the help of a high-profile anti-doping agent in California and have him guide Fogel as he takes performance-enhancing drugs to compete in a crazy weeklong cycling event in the mountains of Europe.
Unfortunately, the California man backs out, but recommends Fogel reach out to a Russian, Grigory Rodchenkov, who is the director of Moscow's WADA lab. (World Anti-Doping Agency) Fogel and Rodchenkov communicate via Skype, work to poke Fogel with tons and tons of needles and freeze lots and lots of urine, (seriously - there's a ton of urine) and actually develop a friendship.
In the midst of this process, a German documentary is released called How Russia Makes Its Winners and declares that most Russian athletes (especially in track and field) are cheating the anti-doping system in order to win. Someone who has a large part to play in this? Rodchenkov himself. Suddenly, the entire premise of the documentary is shifted as Fogel finds himself interviewing Rodchenkov about these allegations, leading to conspiracies, suspicion, and danger.
Please check it out and become a little more enlightened about the heights of the Russian government that this scandal reaches. It is awesome to see how a little documentary meant to show the gaps in the anti-doping system turns into an eye-opening look into the the Russian government's involvement in doping the country's athletes.
Skip to the Tokyo 2020 section if you're planning on giving this a watch - it's on Netflix now!
In the beginning of the documentary, it was amazing to see how knowledgeable Rodchenkov was about what pills to pop and what liquids to inject at what times. He even had strict instructions about how to freeze that urine I was talking about before. The man at the center of Russian anti-doping knows his stuff. And I think if you're someone who comes into this without much knowledge of the premise, like me, it turns on some bells in the back of your head. "Officials should know how people cheat the system, but he seems to know it too well."
Sure enough, there's a reason for that. Rodchenkov and Fogel visit each other in their respective countries early on in the film, and while Rodchenkov is processing Fogel's urine, he actually says with a chuckle, "This is Mafia."
Fogel does the Haute Route twice - once as a completely clean athlete, and the second time completely doped up, but taking the cautions advised by Rodchenkov to provide clean urine when asked. The first time he competes he finishes 14th (this guy was big into cycling even before this documentary, so he's good), but the second time he actually finishes 27th, completely blowing the premise of the documentary! I'm sure if the Russian scandal hadn't fallen in his lap Fogel would have scrapped the entire film. Instead, he has an Oscar.
Eventually Rodchenkov finds out he's being tailed by the FSB - the modern day KGB - and is worried for his life. Fogel is actually the one that purchases him a ticket to Los Angeles and gets him out of Russia before he is killed. Fogel sets him up in a small apartment and interviews him incessantly about how the Russians used Rodchenkov and the lab to cheat the system in events all over the world. More importantly - and why I'm discussing this in the Olympic Blurb - it details the exact details of the Russian doping during the Sochi Olympics in 2014. (Fun fact: the WADA lab and the FSB building were right across the courtyard from each other. In the middle of the night athlete's clean urine was taken from the FSB building to the WADA lab via the fire escape and switched with the dirty urine! It was Operation Sochi Resultat.)
For someone who watched those 2014 Olympics passionately, it's incredibly depressing to watch. There have been many medals stripped over the years, but almost every single medal the Russians won in 2014 had some sort of doping and cheating attached to it. All those happy Russian athletes and excited Russian fans were just a ruse for sinister dealings.
The worst part? Rodchenkov states - and provides evidence - that the Russian government fully knew about all of this, and actually promoted it when the Russians did so poorly in 2010's Winter Games in Vancouver.
While Rodchenkov is still in Russia and the German documentary is released, the film gets quite dark. At first Rodchenkov and Fogel casually discuss dogs and doping like they're two buddies. (Rodchenkov often did his Skype conversations shirtless, which was not a pretty sight.) But later Rodchenkov's conversations are done in dim light, hushed, with mentions of armed security around his house and him being afraid for his family.
The most disheartening thing of all is the response by the Russians themselves. Of course the top officials - Vladimir Putin and then-Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko - deny anything to do with this. That's just what Russian officials do. But then the doc showed a clip of Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, who I watched win gold in 2008. She stood in front of an audience of her peers and tearfully stated that they had been "banned without any evidence or proof." Yet the investigations and reports all show that there was plenty of clear evidence and proof. What was she told to say? Or what was she not allowed to see? What lies is she telling us?
The final parts of the documentary take quotations from George Orwell's 1984, and I think I really need to read this book because of how relevant those quotes were to life nowadays. One of the quotes spoken was, "And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed — if all records told the same tale — then the lie passed into history and became truth."
Essentially that's what's trying to be done here. Fogel did his best to uncover the truth and present it as factually as possible, and as a result many Russian athletes can no longer compete, and the entire Russian Olympic Committee was banned from participation in PyeongChang. And in the eye of viewers all over the world, they'll forever see Russian athletes as "cheaters," and it's going to take decades to lose that stigma.
I know that through this documentary, I'll never forget.
Tokyo 2020 Prep
Honestly, I'm watching Japanese YouTube videos like the Olympics are next month! Some of my favorite channels are Abroad in Japan, Rachel and Jun, and Tokyo Lens, if you're interested. The videos are pretty gorgeous, since many people are covering the cherry blossoms that are in full bloom right now!
Oh, and the full "thank you" in Japanese is "arigatou gouzimasu." (Not "domo arigatou, Mr. Roboto.")
I had a sudden inspiration to visit Japan next year and maybe hit Tokyo Disneyland and Disney SEA, but that soon deflated after I saw prices for airfare.
- The BlurbWatch:
- figure skating
- track and field
- The Olympic Channel has been a real winner lately - they started of sluggish but now are airing lots of sporting events from all over the world that people wouldn't normally be able to see. After airing all of the 2018 Figure Skating World Championships, they also aired the gala! I initially found no interest in the galas, but now am obsessed and love how it shows the talents and character of the skaters.
- For example, Uzbekistan's Misha Ge, who is retiring at the end of the season, had a fun performance that was heavy on hip hop and costume changes. Meanwhile, Latvia's Deniss Vasiljevs, a newcomer, didn't treat the gala like a cheap event and it was clear he was giving his all to his skate. Plus I got to see the Charlie Chaplin-inspired routine by Italy's Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte, which is just a joy throughout! (He gives a flower to one of the audience members before taking the ice!)
- I wonder how much of the galas I saw this year - the Olympics and World Championships - reflect the Stars on Ice show I'm going to see at the end of the month. Will there be sticks of glowy things surrounding the ice and glowing with many different colors? Will any men attempt a quad? How many crazy lifts will I get to witness?
- Got to watch some snowboard big air from Canada - gotta say: still not a fan. Maybe if there was more length? I don't know. It seems too simple.
- More about the Olympic Channel and NBCSN - I think they have a dedicated music theme for each individual sport! I know the track and field jingle by heart already, but have become familiar with gymnastics and swimming, as well. While I was watching biathlon, I noticed it had its own unique jingle, too!
- Tyumen, Russia was the final location of the biathlon World Cup last week. After many Olympics that featured mountain, hills, and the same kinds of trees, it was refreshing to see a cross-country course that was surrounded by tall, tall tree trunks!
- I watched a bit of World Cup gymnastics, which were taking place in Birmingham, England. Seriously, when did Birmingham become such a sports mecca? First the IAAF World Indoor Championships, and now this, all in a span of about a month!
- Margzetta Frazier of the United States competed in her first international competition in Birmingham and finished second! It looks like, from what I've seen among all the US female athletes so far, that Team USA Gymnastics is all about power right now.
- The beam and floor exercise for women are judged with the top eight discipline scores added up. Of those eight scores, three of them have to be dance elements. Does this apply to the men's floor exercise, as well? I'm not saying that we should eliminate it from the women's competition, but that we should add it to the men's routines! Can you imagine them dancing like the ladies do on the floor? I'd be very interested to see that, frankly.
- I love casually watching world events and spotting names that I know thanks to the Olympics. I especially love it when it happens and I'm around people, and I can casually mention how Martin Fourcade is from France and he won three gold medals in 2018, plus the World Cup of biathlon!
Man, sit to write an article and suddenly two hours have shot by! Have a blessed Easter, and I'll see you next week!
My name is Claire Nat! You can follow me on Twitter @CeePipes for lots of Olympic comments, or follow me on Facebook at facebook.com/blurbmusings. Check out my blog for other articles!