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Media centre home > Find an expert> Sport and physical activity> DocFest film review – Icarus by Brian Fogle

Published: 12/06/17

By Dr Tom Bassindale

Brian Fogle finished the Haute Tour, a tough amateur cycle race, just outside the top ten. This should be seen as a fantastic achievement, but he felt the top ten were riding on another level.  When people say this they usually mean they think they are doping.

He started wondering if he could come back the next year and win the race with a well designed doping programme whilst also beating the doping control tests. In some ways, he said, he was trying to redeem Lance Armstrong, showing that if he passed 500 tests during his career that almost everyone else was cheating too. “They’re all doping” said Don Catlin, former head of the US Anti Doping Laboratory in support. He then agreed to design a doping programme that would beat the tests.

So far the film was fairly straight forward, dope, beat the tests, improve race performance. This is very similar to the Panorama progamme ‘Catch me if you can’ where reporter Mark Daly used EPO to improve his performance and beat the tests. However, then came the twist. Catlin withdrew from the film to protect his reputation, suggesting the Russian laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov instead.  Rodchenkov starts off as a slightly comedic figure, happy to share his knowledge with Fogle. Fogle follows the programme and freezes urine samples at home to analyse in Moscow at a later date.

The film then starts to take a more serious twist. A German documentary accused Russian athletics of a state sponsored doping programme. This is revealed with the International Olympic Committee and the World Anti Doping Agency investigating and producing reports into the scandal. Grigory Rodchenkov is firmly in the centre of the conspiracy, with a reporting channel right up to the Russian President, Vladimir Putin.

The story then becomes Fogle aiding Rodchenkov in fleeing Russia to the US and becoming a whistleblower. This is a fascinating glimpse into the forensic investigation completed on the amazing amount of material smuggled out of Russia by Rodchenkov.

I’ve written before on the scandal and the lead up to Rio 2016. I learnt some new things in the programme - it also made me think about the ‘war on doping’, the effectiveness of the testing and the morality and ethics of science and sportspeople alike.

Here is Brian talking about the film:


If you'd like to learn more about this subject, I will be talking about the film and the politics behind doping in sport as part of DocFest on Tuesday 13 June. Click here for more information. 

The author:

Dr Tom Bassindale

Tom Bassindale is an expert on doping in sport and blogs on his site, We Are Forensic.