Doping Exposée Icarus Wins Academy Award for Best Documentary

Icarus, a documentary film directed by American Bryan Fogel on the topic of doping in sports, won the 2018 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. The film, whose distribution rights are owned by Netflix, saw Fogel get unprecedented access to the alleged Russian state-sponsored doping system via scientist Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov: the former director of the Russian national anti-doping laboratory.

Rodchenkov’s 2016 New York Times interview, which included spreadsheets, e-mails and other evidence of Russian involvement, revealed the now-infamous scheme of swapping Russian athletes’ urine samples so that they wouldn’t test positive at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Fogel helped Rodchenkov flee to the United States, fearing his life. Rodchehnkov’s testimony was one of the leading drivers for Russia’s soft-restrictions at the 2016 Olympic Games and the Russian Olympic Committee’s slightly-firmer ban from the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, where athletes were allowed only to compete as “Olympic Athletes from Russia,’ rather than under their national flag. 2 Russian so far have still tested positive so far via samples collected at the Winter Olympic Games, with more possible after dozens of retests from the Beijing (2008), Vancouver (2010), and London (2012) Olympic Games came back positive.

Icarus also won a U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award at the Sundance Film Festival, where it premiered: also known as the Orwell Award.

The Oscar for Best Documentary has been awarded almost every year since 1942. Early winners were primarily about war and political figures, while sports documentaries have been better received in recent years. That includes 1996 winner When We Were Kings about Muhammad Ali and George Foreman; One Day in September about the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics; Undefeated about a high school football team in Memphis; and O.J.: Made in America about football superstar-turned-villain.

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Steve Nolan

Icarus is good and people should watch it! I think I was more blown away by it b/c I only knew it was about this talented amateur cyclist trying to dope himself to see how good he could get. Turns out it got A LOT BIGGER.

And a general “Best Documentary” rant – “The Act of Killing” and “The Look of Silence” both lost to docs about musicians (backup singers and Amy Winehouse, respectively) and that pretty much just invalidates the entire award to me. The most essential documentaries I’ve ever seen.

Siphiwe Baleka

I saw the film. Amazing. To be honest, I now wonder: I got second place to Vladimir Predkin at the FINA Masters World Championships in Budapest this summer in the M 45-49 50M Freestyle. Predkin won two gold and three silver medals in the 4×100 m freestyle relay at the 1996 Summer Olympics and the European and world championships of 1993–1995. Individually, he won two medals in the 50 m freestyle and 50 m butterfly events at the European Sprint Swimming Championships 1993. Predkin holds the current FINA Masters world record in the LCM 50M Freestyle at 23.98. I never once thought that Russian doping had any effect on me as a masters swimmer, but after watching that film, I… Read more »


Honestly, you probably have a right to be suspicious. It would be one thing if it was a lax community that just had rampant drug use, but being state sponsored to the point where they were telling athletes they couldn’t compete unless they doped right up to the games is a whole “brave” new world….and from what Grigory says apparently this is the way it’s always been.

…Also, during these winter Olympics the CURLER was busted for doping. Curling. Doping. It’s unbelievable.


I’d be more worried about it in age group triathlon. I race elite and when age groupers are beating me and they say, “I don’t want to turn elite because it’s just a hobby,” that’s a red flag that they don’t want to be put into the pool of tested subjects.

I can’t even get over the fact of why an age groupers would dope… It’s ridiculous. Yet I think it’s more rampant in 40-50 year old men than in any other sport.


I wouldn’t be surprised if you were right, especially since many triathletes are quite affluent (in my experience). Coughing up the scratch for some of those drugs/supplements probably isn’t a big deal, and gives them prestige/respect/bragging rights/etc.


He might be doping, but I don’t know if it’s through state-sponsored channels. I would hope that the Russians in charge of the program would only take that risk with athletes who have a chance at Olympic/World Champs medals. Not to demean Masters swimming, there’s just not as much prestige/money in those events and and so, if I were in charge of such a doping program, it would seem more practical to leave masters swimmers out since they increase risk without significantly increasing the payoff.


Go ask him next time you race him. They considered Meldonium to be like a vitamin. He probably competed under the culture doping back in the 90s its doubtful he has given it up now especially if there is no testing. Why dont you circulate a petition for FINA to start testing the top finishers especially male over 40.

Siphiwe Baleka

In the last two years I have won thirteen US Masters Swimming National Championships, set three national records, and got four silver medals at the FINA Masters Swimming World Championships in Budapest this summer and I have never been drug tested. I have also competed in TYR Pro Swim series and never been tested. My point is that now all of a sudden, after watching this film, I am looking at Masters Swimming in a whole different way. If someone wanted to, for whatever reason (such as becoming World Champion at age 45 or 50), they could do it and get away with it. Or consider that it has been published that one of my main competitors, who holds several… Read more »


Recently sports scientists have been saying that certain PEDs can potentially give you a lifelong benefit, so even if this guy hasn’t doped since the 90s he could still be gaining an advantage!

(As a side note Siphiwe I read an article about you and loved your story! Super impressed with your recent performances, four silvers at world masters is serious!!!)

dj albertson

I agree with Alex- I race triathlon and have been suspicious of sudden improvements in 40 and 50 year olds. How can someone improve so much while aging?

Siphiwe Baleka

It’s possible. I managed to swim the 100 yard Breast faster at age 46 (57.6) than I did at Yale (58.2) and I haven’t used any drugs. So I never suspected any of the FINA masters records. But the movie Icarus makes me suspicious of some of them. Take the USMS M45-49 Record for the 200 yard IM. It was 1:56.14 set in 2012 by US Olympian Dave Sims until Nicolas Granger broke it in 2015 with a 1:51.44. How does that record get smashed by five seconds??? Dave Sims is a legendary Masters swimmer still (member of the 1980 US Olympic team).

Siphiwe Baleka

“Granger took some time away from the pool in his early 40s to recover from cancer, and has returned with renewed gusto. He was voted one of Swimming World Magazine’s World Masters Swimmers of the Year in 2014 and 2015.”

Siphiwe Baleka

In the case of Nicolas Granger, first let me say that I have met Nicolas, I have raced him head to head, and I have nothing against him personally and I consider him a masters swimming friend. In his own words, “I’ve had two cancers. Swimming, in a way, saved me.” I have nothing against a guy struggling to win a battle against testicular cancer. However, consider this. Granger took time off in his 40’s to recover from testicular cancer. 38% of testicular cancer survivors have low testosterone. In such a condition, we would not expect world record performances on the magnitude of 5 seconds better than other comparative Olympic swimmers. It would not be unreasonable for me to speculate… Read more »

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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