The former mastermind of Russian sports doping, Grigory Rodchenkov, gave an interview to the BBC this week with his veiled face in the dark shadow of a wide-brimmed straw hat. Now in hiding in the US, after revealing all to the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada), it’s a potentially life-saving precaution. Matt Majendie explains why.
Only a small handful of people are aware of the current whereabouts of Dr Grigory Rodchenkov. Not even his lawyer, Jim Walden, knows his address in hiding. But Russian officials are keen to find out.
When the US expelled 60 Russian diplomats, in protest at the poisoning of Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in March 2018, Walden says he was informed some had been closing in on his client.
“What we learned from the bureau [FBI] was that three of the Russians that were expelled were people that had been placed here by the Kremlin to try to find Dr Rodchenkov. We actually saw pictures of those individuals. So, the threat to Dr Rodchenkov is real.”
Head of the Moscow drug-testing laboratory, Rodchenkov was the architect of Russian doping at London 2012 and at the winter games in Sochi two years later. But when a Wada-instigated investigation in 2015 revealed the covering up of failed tests at his lab and the hasty destruction of 1,417 samples, he fled to the USA. Then, as recounted in the Oscar-winning documentary, Icarus, he became a high-level whistleblower, confessing all.
To some Russians, this makes him a traitor. President Vladimir Putin has mused that he is “under the control of American special services”, as well as describing him as “an imbecile with obvious problems”.
But for now, Rodchenkov has lived to tell the tale. As Walden puts it: “He has lived multiple lives in one body. It’s really incredible the way by dint of good relationships, luck and a degree of cunning he has somehow survived against all odds.”