German documentary alleges massive doping program in Russia – English transcript released

Earlier this month, German TV program “Das Erste” ran a documentary alleging an extensive and systematic doping program being run in Russia. The documentary has made waves internationally, and now has the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) looking into its allegations.

The documentary, broadcast by TV station ZDF/ARD on December 3rd, focuses on Vitaly Stepanov, a former worker with RUSADA, the Russian Anti-Doping Agency. Stepanov’s wife is Yuliya Stepanova, formerly Yuliya Rusanova, one of the world’s best 800 meter runners who is currently serving a two-year suspension for doping.

Stepanov and Stepanova are the major whistleblowers on the story, giving their combined perspectives from both sides of the doping problem – from outside overseers like RUSADA and from within the high-level athletic establishment. The couple and their child have now fled Russia and are in hiding, fearing the consequences of speaking out, according to Britain’s The Sunday Times.

The documentary, titled “Top-Secret Doping: How Russia makes its Winners,” was put together by German journalist Hajo Seppelt.

ZDF/ARD has released a full transcript of the documentary translated into English. You can read the full version here.

Just some of the major allegations it includes:

  • Seppelt describes an organized system in Russian athletics wherein the athletes allegedly paid officials fees and percentages of their winnings in exchange for banned substances and protection from being drug tested.
  • Stepanova claims athletes occasionally lived under fake names while on training trips to prevent foreign doping control officers from finding and testing them.
  • Seppelt tests a claim by the couple while he is in Russia and finds he is able to order prescription-only EPO injections over the phone. The injections are delivered right to him and he is never asked for a prescription.
  • Seppelt also includes some direct audio recordings of Russian coaches talking their athletes into taking banned supplements. One of the more notable exchanges includes a female athlete asking “They are banned substances?” to which her coach responds “Don’t say that, call them a special kind of preparation.”
  • Russian discus thrower Evgenia Pecherina, who is serving a 10-year doping ban, says she suspects that 99% of Russia’s National Team athletes are doping in some form or another.

Stepanova is a track and field athlete, and most of the allegations in the documentary seem aimed at that sport and at various Winter Olympic sports, after Russia led the gold medal count at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

However, the documentary does allege that swimming is involved in the scandal as well.

Stepanova describes her meeting with a high-ranking Russian athletics official named Sergey Portugalov, who she says gave her banned substances directly and helped her avoid being caught in exchange for a percentage of her winnings. Stepanova’s full quote:

“I’ve seen coaches and athletes from other sports in the queue. And he [Portugalov] also told me himself, how he prepared nordic skiers, walkers, 400 meter runners and other girls from our national team. Swimming coaches were also present. These people who I saw there, among them were also winners and medal winners from European and World Championships.”

-Yuliya Stepanova (Rusanova)

Stepanov, the former Rusada worker, alleges that Russian officials would call Rusada to find out the name attached to a positive doping test, and if the athlete was a big name or a medal hopeful, the test would eventually be thrown out or not reported.

Stepanov lists the sports he claims were guilty of shielding their athletes from drug testing:

“In Swimming, Cycling, Biathlon, Athletics, Weight Lifting, Nordic Skiing.”

-Vitaly Stepanov

Rusada has responded to the criticism. Director Nikita Kamaev claims that the allegations of misconduct are coming from athletes who have already violated doping laws, and says those are the types of people liable to “turn to journalists and tell stories.”

“For professionals, these stories are simply laughable,” he says.

The documentary is significant to the sport of swimming because of the string of high-profile doping bans handed out to Russian swimmer over the past year, most notably to Yuliya Efimova, who was suspended for 16 months and stripped of several medals and World Records.

The details surrounding Efimova’s suspension could support the documentary’s allegations, but could also be quite unrelated. It’s worth noting that Efimova trained in the United States, and claimed she unknowingly took a banned substance after a GNC employee mistakenly informed her that a supplement was legal, a claim that FINA (the world’s swimming federation) found to be credible.

That’s far from a systematic scandal carried out by a national swimming federation. However, it’s also worth pointing out that Efimova failed a drug test carried out by FINA and WADA while not failing any test administered by Rusada, Russia’s Anti-Doping Agency, against whom most of the documentary’s accusations are leveled.

This week, Seppelt has said that the release of his documentary set off a wave of sources sending him additional inside information on the subject. EuroSport and others have reported that Seppelt is now planning to produce a second documentary and perhaps even more of them based on the new information.

Once again, the full English transcript of the documentary is here. You can read more about the documentary and its fallout on here or here.

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9 years ago

Sounds like Kazan may be going down for Worlds host if there is a credible case against them. In case that happens, who were the runner-up bids for ’15 Worlds??

Reply to  liquidassets
9 years ago

liquidassets – I haven’t heard anything specific in that regard, but the way it was done was Hong Kong, Guadalajara, and Kazan were the three finalists for either 2015 or 2017. Guadalajara got 2017, Kazan got 2015, and Hong Kong was left out.

Reply to  Braden Keith
9 years ago

Thanks. Would be nice to see Hong Kong get it, Russia’s gotten too many wins before. It seems like a no-brainer to change it from a fan’s viewpoint, but with all the $ involved and FINA’s lack of backbone, I wonder if anything will really happen.

Reply to  liquidassets
9 years ago

liquidassets – while I agree that a lot of what’s been going on in Russia is concerning, and I wouldn’t necessarily be a huge proponent granting them a meet if one came up for bid, I’m not sure that I support moving either. Even 8 months out, moving a meet of this size and scale would leave a scramble, would leave a lot of new work for a whole lot of people, make attendance and hosting of the meet immensely more expensive for federations to make arrangements for, harder to ensure athlete health and safety…if it’s purely a punitive measure, I wouldn’t be in favor of moving this late in the game.

9 years ago

This is WAY more believable than Efimova’s GNC story. The only reason I believed her for a second was because it was such a bad lie that I figured if she was doping, they would have coached her to tell a more believable one. But then I remembered… oh yeah, Russia.

9 years ago

I am so disappointed! There are so many athletes that are extremely careful to avoid the slightest thing that could cause a positive test. Doping to win destroys sport for all of us.

9 years ago

So you’re telling me that the state leader who makes sure reporters get shirtless pictures of him swimming butterfly in almost frozen lakes every year cares so much about image that he would have his athletes dope themselves up to their eyeballs to make their country look good?

I dunno, guys, the Cold War is over.

9 years ago

this is obvious. just look at results. Vlad goes to Russia and then drops .5 in the 50 the next year. its so obvious look at how fast Russia went at the university games held in Russia versus world champs. hint: no drug tests on home soil.

Reply to  lol
9 years ago

Your argument is invalid. I’d suggest you to look at other nations athletes results and improvements to make a fair comparison.

9 years ago

If FINA doesn’t rescind the Putin award and move the World Championships from Kazan, they have outlived their utility as the steward of aquatic sports, and the nations under their auspices need to start thinking about forming a new, athlete-led governing body.

9 years ago

“It’s worth noting that Efimova trained in the United States, and claimed she unknowingly took a banned substance after a GNC employee mistakenly informed her that a supplement was legal, a claim that FINA (the world’s swimming federation) found to be credible.”

I didn’t know this detail before.
So FINA found that super ridiculous statement to be credible?
FINA is more disgusting than I thought they were.

So World Champion, Super Elite swimmer who’s been a world’s elite swimmer for many years relied on and trusted information from a GNC employee????
and FINA found it credibe?????

9 years ago

I am so shocked.

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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