2014 Olympics in Sochi – Russia’s state doping and the consequences

As of: February 8, 2024 7:22 a.m

The Russian state doping scandal surrounding the 2014 Winter Games is one of the biggest in Olympic history. World sport is still busy cleaning up today.

By Hajo Seppelt, Nick Butler and Jörg Mebus

Ten years after Sotschi, Arnd Peiffer tries not to let the sports-political madness around him get too close to him. “When we won silver back then, I tried not to write it all off as ‘feeling cheated’. That would just ruin my memory,” says the former biathlete and current ARD expert with a look at the 2014 Olympic relay race.

Despite a case of doping in the then victorious Russian team, Peiffer, who ended his career in 2021, is still waiting, together with his teammates Erik Lesser, Simon Schempp and Daniel Böhm, for the medals to be redistributed – and thus for gold. “Let’s just wait and see. If in the end we get gold, then justice will be done to us, which is of course nice.”

The relay race in Sochi and its consequences are emblematic of how difficult it is for world sport institutions to clean up the gigantic pile of shambles that Sochi has left behind.

Olympia as a fig leaf

But first things first: Sochi was already problematic for the International Olympic Committee in many ways when it was held ten years ago. Russia let the show cost an insane $50 billion and ignored the IOC’s first delicate attempts to curb the gigantism surrounding the games. But not only Russian bigotry, but also environmental sins, homophobic excesses and reprisals against human rights activists by the hosts characterized the first games under German IOC President Thomas Bach.

Things spiraled completely out of control after the fire in the Black Sea resort went out. On March 18, three weeks after the Olympic and just two days after the Paralympic closing ceremony, Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea. He had prepared the incorporation when the world was looking at the games in Sochi – the Olympics as a fig leaf. The fact that Russia had moved much further away from the Olympic values ​​became clear when the state doping scandal was uncovered.

Pound and McLaren shocked the sporting world

The ARD documentary “Secret Matter Doping – How Russia Makes Its Winners” got everything rolling at the end of 2014. The publication of the results of the investigative commissions set up by WADA founding president Richard Pound (November 2015) and Richard McLaren (July and December 2016) shocked the sports world.

While Pound was more concerned with activities in athletics, the Canadian McLaren proved that the Russians had committed fraud on an unprecedented scale, especially with regard to Sochi: secret exchange of doping samples through a hole in the wall, widespread manipulation, doping cocktails from the mastermind and later key witness Grigory Rodchenkov , all flanked by the secret service and approved by the sports ministry.

Sochi was the culmination of the Russian state doping system, which, according to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), ran in this form between 2012 and 2015.

“Wave movement that continues to this day”

“The scale was much larger than what we were initially able to report on,” says Richard McLaren in an interview with the ARD doping editorial team about his sensational first report in the summer of 2016: “What we were dealing with triggered a wave movement , which continues to this day.”

Initially, the IOC banned 42 Russian athletes in the immediate connection with Sochi and withheld numerous medals. 30 of the accused Russians were ultimately acquitted by the International Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in February 2018, despite clear indications that they had benefited directly from state doping, due to a lack of evidence of individual doping offenses. IOC boss Bach raged – at the same time he was repeatedly noticed at the time by rhetoric and maneuvers that seemed to have the aim of not alienating the powerful sports nation of Russia too much.

9,453 suspected doping samples

Bach’s proximity to Russia seemed more and more strange over time, as Moscow actively tried to prevent clarification. In January 2019, it was only after immense international pressure and after much maneuvering from WADA that the Russians handed over thousands of athlete data from the Moscow control laboratory – but it turned out to have been extensively manipulated. This data set – which emerges from confidential WADA documents available to the ARD doping editorial team – included, among other things, results from 63,277 doping samples. Of these, WADA classified a whopping 9,453 as suspicious: They could have been manipulated and incorrectly reported as negative.

It was about analyzes from the heyday of Russian state doping, from January 2012 to August 2015. According to the confidential WADA report from November 2023, “Operation Lims” has resulted in 834 Russian doping cases to date. Sanctions were imposed in 280 cases, 409 were closed without result, and 145 are still ongoing. This is one of the reasons why WADA has not yet re-approved the Russian anti-doping agency RUSADA, even though its ban has already formally expired.

One of these Russian Lims cases is that of the biathlete Ustyugov. The case that ensured that the members of the German Sochi relay were still not allowed to receive their gold medals. You have to be patient, although the world association IBU banned Ustyugov in 2020, the IOC then canceled the Russian relay result in Sochi and has not included a gold medalist in the race in its statistics since then.

Nothing has happened for a year and a half

In response to a question from ARD, the IBU said that a Russian objection procedure was still ongoing before the CAS and that they had been waiting for a decision since the last hearing – that hearing took place more than a year and a half ago. The IOC, in turn, emphasized that its highest body, the Executive Board, which is solely responsible for the new award of Olympic medals, could not make a decision before the last CAS ruling was confirmed.

“Everything takes time, but could it be faster? Yes, it could and it should!” says Richard McLaren, referring to the general process of coming to terms with Sochi: “But this system is not as efficient as it could be.” That’s why Erik Lesser just keeps waiting. It doesn’t really matter to him now whether it ends up being gold or silver: “For me it’s just about the decision. I just want the case to be closed at some point.”


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