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Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested Thursday that his country’s former anti-doping chief, now in the U.S. in the federal witness protection program, is being manipulated by American officials into saying what they want. The testimony of Grigory Rodchenkov helped provide the basis for the International Olympic Committee’s unprecedented decision this month to ban Russia from the 2018 Winter Games.
In Moscow at his annual news conference, which ran for several hours and covered a wide range of topics, Putin said (via the AP) that Rodchenkov’s presence in the U.S. “is not a positive for us, it’s a negative. It means he’s under the control of American special services.
“What are they doing with him there?” Putin added. “Are they giving him some kind of substances so that he says what’s required?”
Rodchenkov was Russia’s anti-doping laboratory director until November 2015, when he was accused by the World Anti-Doping Agency of masterminding a years-long doping program for Russia. Rodchenkov stepped down from his post, later saying that he was forced to resign by Russian officials, and fled to the U.S. because he feared for his safety. Shortly thereafter, a pair of former colleagues from Russia’s anti-doping agency unexpectedly died.
Rodchenkov went on to detail a doping operation that employed the services of Russian agents and boosted the results of dozens of the country’s athletes in a variety of sports. He said his crowning achievement came at the 2014 Games, held in the Russian town of Sochi, when he found a way to unseal and reseal supposedly tamper-proof bottles containing athletes’ urine samples for drug testing.
Using a hole in a wall in the room where the bottles were stored, Rodchenkov said, his team took urine samples that could have been flagged for performance-enhancing drugs and swapped in clean urine that had been collected months before. Russia won the most gold (13), silver (11) and overall medals (33) at those Games, but 11 of those medals have subsequently been stripped by the IOC, with at least a dozen Russian athletes banned for doping in Sochi.
“You ask how did it happen that such person took charge of the anti-doping body? This was definitely a mistake of those who appointed him,” Putin said Thursday (via Tass). “I know who did this, but what’s the use of talking about it now.
“It is more strange for me, for a person who worked with the intelligence for a long time, how he had managed to smuggle all this garbage from North America and Canada?” Putin said of Rodchenkov’s doping operation. “How did he manage to clear Customs Services under such tight control? He had been doing it for years. It certainly raises various questions.”
Putin has said that Russia will not boycott the 2018 Games, which could allow some of the country’s athletes who have been cleared of doping to compete. They will officially be listed as “Olympic Athletes from Russia,” and if they medal, the Olympic anthem will be played during the podium ceremony.
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