In February 2020, it became known that the Russian team was deprived of a medal in the Sochi 2014 biathlon men’s relay because of a positive doping test by Evgeny Ustyugov. Against the background of this news, a story surfaced again in the world press, which the New York Times told about in 2016. The publication published an investigation about the doping program in the USSR. The informant was the chief physician of the 1984 Soviet Olympic team, Grigory Vorobyov. The documents that he provided to reporters said that athletes were recommended to use three types of anabolics before the Games in Los Angeles. According to foreign media reports, all doping scandals in Russian sports are interconnected and have a common history. In the details of the investigation, which continues to excite the sports and near-sports world, Lenta.ru understood.
Grigory Vorobiev died in November 2019. However, even if he were alive, he would hardly have agreed to answer new questions – and he told too much. The last eight years, Vorobyov lived in Chicago. He moved to be closer to his son and grandchildren, but did not run away at all – as he himself explained. Why in 2016, against the background of doping scandals in Russian athletics, he decided to go out to reporters and tell a story almost forty years ago? Was it an attempt by the self-PR due to the interest in the topic, warmed up by namesake Rodchenkov, or a sincere impulse to expose the power, which, according to his version, is responsible for one of the largest deceptions in the history of sports?
Let’s say right away: Vorobyov revealed the doping plan that supposedly existed in the Soviet Union in the 1980s, but never claimed that it was actually carried out. To speculate on the basis of information transmitted by the only person who, moreover, was not aware of all the details of what was happening, is not too professional, but there is no smoke without fire. The main complaint of the Russian side to The New York Times is that the materials describe in detail only about the USSR, and doping in European countries, for example, the GDR (which journalists also tried to prove), is mentioned as if between cases. But that’s why I want to understand this issue.
So who is Sparrow? A graduate of the Leningrad Medical Institute and the Leningrad Institute of Physical Education, who in 1956 was admitted as a sports doctor to the Moscow Army Club, and in 1959 to Ministry of Sports. From there, Vorobyov in the same status was in the country’s national athletics team, and in the early 1970s, when the medical staff of the team was expanded to five doctors and eight masseurs, he became the head physician. Vorobyov accompanied the athletes at the starts, was the author of the recovery techniques and several times was appointed medical delegate of the International Athletics Federation at major competitions. He was a respected and authoritative person. However, not the most, the other doctor, Sergei Portugalov, enjoyed much greater confidence in the authorities.
This surname, by the way, appeared in doping trials in Russian athletics in 2015. According to the Commission of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), since 2007, Portuguese has been sending athletes recommendations on how to take illegal drugs. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has disqualified a physician for life.
Vorobyov, as a confirmation of the words about the doping program, presented a certain report paper – a 1983 printed document, signed specifically by Portugalov. This is a kind of instruction in which it is said that programs “compiled on the basis of scientifically substantiated and confirmed by practice provisions are auxiliary in nature and cannot provide a sharp increase in performance and ultimately increase sports results in Los Angeles.” It’s about steroids that were taken in pills.
Further in the lecture, the “cardinal question” is posed: why not introduce injectable forms of anabolic steroids (AS) into circulation – as part of a special pharmacological preparation for the 1984 Olympics?
“There is essentially only one reason for refusing injection forms – the lack of accurate data on the timing of withdrawal of injection forms of AS,” the report concludes. It also contains a series of recommendations intended for anti-doping laboratory staff. It was up to them to figure out how long the drugs – retabolil, stromba and strombadzhekt – are excreted from the body. And as an appendix to the report, an approximate plan for the intake of these steroids by members of the team is painted. It was assumed that the laboratory specialists will only have to approve it. The plan looks like this:
1. Include an injection course of AS (from three to five ampoules of 50 mg each) in the special program for the preparation of candidates for Olympic medals. Selection criterion for the contingent: high result against the background of a relatively small course of tabletted forms of AS.
2. Dates for such a course: the first two weeks of March, plus the last week of February 1984, against the background of the maximum volume of general physical fitness. The termination of injection for 145-157 days, depending on the date of the respective final competitions of the Olympic Games.
It is important that the digitized version that The New York Times publishes has the appearance of a torn document, parts of which are not visually too consistent. There is no confirmation of the authenticity of the report, as there is no evidence that the document is fabricated.
Shot: Sport Tech Lab / YouTube
The New York Times claims to have contacted the Russian Ministry of Sports and personally to Portugalov for comments, but received no response.
But the Olympic Games in Los Angeles, the USSR, as a result, boycotted. The official reason is the refusal of the organizers of the competition to satisfy the requirement of providing security guarantees to delegations from the Soviet Union and other countries of the Warsaw Pact. Instead, the team went to an alternative tournament, which was held between the socialist countries, – “Friendship-84.”
Four years later, the Games were held in Seoul, and there the Soviet team simply defeated the rivals. Who won that Olympics? Sergey Bubka, Natalya Lisovskaya, Svetlana Boginskaya, Alexander Karelin and others. In the general medal standings, the USSR was the first with 55 gold awards, having won 132 medals in total. The closest pursuers from the GDR had 37 victories, and only 102 awards. What was behind the triumph of domestic athletes? The plan described in the lecture?
According to the former weightlifter, 1988 Olympic champion Israil Arsamakov, it was he. “Athletes ate chemistry in buckets. The decision to feed everyone was made from above, not at the level of the CPSU Central Committee, but at the level of the sports committee, ”Arsamakov told Meduze in December 2017. – Those who did not use could be thrown out of the team. Almost everyone used it, although many did not want to do it. And in the end, those who, perhaps, are less talented, but the chemistry works better for him in terms of results. ”
In addition, Arsamakov said that illicit drugs from the USSR came to other countries, but, of course, unofficially.
He also emphasized that international federations knew about the violations, but covered them because they needed world records and advertising. But doping control was proposed for the Olympic Games back in 1967, so it was really impossible to use illegal drugs without the knowledge of senior functionaries.
However, Arsamakov is the only athlete to ever openly declare a Soviet doping program. Incidentally, he does not mention Vorobyov and his revelations, but speaks out independently. Meanwhile, a number of former champion athletes categorically deny any allegations against Soviet sports and point out the false testimony of the former head physician.
For example, the 1995 world triple jump champion Yolanda Chen fiercely opposed him. The former athlete called Vorobyov “a significant scoundrel” and “terrible greed by a man” on the radio station “Moscow Says”: “I had an incredibly vile impression on Vorobyov. At that time, I was just in the national team and talked a lot with him. From many athletes he even tried to take money to make VIPs out of them, take over the leadership of this athlete’s doping program, and then ensure his cleanliness. We were shocked by this, and no one agreed to work with him, everyone knew his disgusting blackmail character, ”Chen said.
She added that the head doctor refused injured athletes in expensive imported medicines purchased by the state, and resold them.
Whether Vorobyov actually received a reward is unknown. He himself explained that he never supported Portugalov, who ran the whole system. But in it, Vorobyov, as the chief specialist, of course, was not the last element. He never recognized it. His career in the national team ended in the mid-1990s, when one of the members of the national team was accused of using phenotropil – a drug effective in fighting fatigue.
In February 2020, it became known that Russia was likely to lose first place in the medal standings of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games. This happened after the doping test of biathlete Yevgeny Ustyugov, who won gold in the men’s relay four, gave a positive result. Attempts are still to be made to appeal the decision to the CAS, but the Ministry of Sports has already recognized that new sanctions are unlikely to be avoided.
All this for the Western press is a new reason to recall the “doping continuity” in Russian sport. And the former WADA president, Richard Pound, directly says: “This document [докладная, предоставленная Воробьевым] demonstrates the foundation upon which everything was built. The system we are facing is not new. This is a continuation of the Soviet days. “
There is no one to understand the doping scandals of the past in Russia today, and there is no reason: there are too many problems here and now. But if one day it is possible to wash off all the accusations and restore the reputation, then you need to take up Soviet history and admit mistakes, if you have something to admit. This would be a logical and important point in all the proceedings. In the meantime, we have too few facts – both evidence and rebuttals. So, maybe someone else wants to tell something?