An analysis did come, just four months later and in the form of an audit from the Russian Treasury. It found that one of the reasons for the Russian failures in Vancouver was Mutko and the way he spent ministerial finances. In fact, Mutko had spent so much money on himself—$1,400-a-night hotel rooms for 20 days, during which he had an astonishing 97 breakfasts—that there was little left for the actual athletes and their support staff, many of whom traveled to Vancouver on their own dime. Mutko may have spoken that spring about his responsibility, but he took none this time. Any big organization will have its problems, Mutko said when the report came out, but “I see a system that’s nearly ideal ... I don’t see a single problem. You couldn’t possibly call 17 fourth-place finishes an ineffective use of funds!”
In other words, with the home-game Olympics just three and a half years away, Mutko had fixed everything—the rotten infrastructure, the lack of incoming talent, the émigré coaches, the widespread doping—in just four months. By the time the closing ceremony began in all its splendor in Sochi in February 2014, the Russian team had won the medal count.
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We now know how Mutko was able to achieve that jump, from 11th place to first, in such a short amount of time: an extensive, state-sponsored doping campaign. After a German documentary interviewed two Russian athletes who had fled Russia and had become whistleblowers about how systematically Russia dopes its athletes, key figures in the world of Russian anti-doping started turning up dead under mysterious circumstances. This prompted Grigory Rodchenkov, the head of the Russian anti-doping agency, to flee, fearing for his life, to Los Angeles and to the director Bryan Fogel. The two had been working together on Fogel’s riveting documentary, “Icarus,” about how easy it is for an athlete to dope and test clean. Rodchenkov, who had been coaching Fogel in his quest to dope for a cycling event and dupe the tests, decided to confess to Fogel, on camera. He also told his story to The New York Times, and then went into U.S. government witness protection.
Rodchenkov ran the lab at Sochi during the Winter Olympics, and what he did there was essentially what he did for Fogel, but on a more massive scale: helping dozens of athletes dope all through the Games while testing negative on every single test. The story he told to the Times and to Fogel would strain the imagination, were it not independently confirmed by two investigations: one by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and one by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
Here is the summary of the operation, from the Times:
The director, Grigory Rodchenkov, who ran the laboratory that handled testing for thousands of Olympians, said he developed a three-drug cocktail of banned substances that he mixed with liquor and provided to dozens of Russian athletes, helping to facilitate one of the most elaborate—and successful—doping ploys in sports history.
It involved some of Russia’s biggest stars of the Games, including 14 members of its cross-country ski team and two veteran bobsledders who won two golds.
In a dark-of-night operation, Russian antidoping experts and members of the intelligence service surreptitiously replaced urine samples tainted by performance-enhancing drugs with clean urine collected months earlier, somehow breaking into the supposedly tamper-proof bottles that are the standard at international competitions, Dr. Rodchenkov said. For hours each night, they worked in a shadow laboratory lit by a single lamp, passing bottles of urine through a hand-size hole in the wall, to be ready for testing the next day, he said.
By the end of the Games, Dr. Rodchenkov estimated, as many as 100 dirty urine samples were expunged.
None of the athletes were caught doping. More important, Russia won the most medals of the Games, easily surpassing its main rival, the United States, and undermining the integrity of one of the world’s most prestigious sporting events.
All of this, Rodchenkov said, was overseen by an officer of the federal security services, the FSB, and had the approval of Mutko and Putin.