MOSCOW -- Russian officials and athletes today sought to dismiss new allegations the country ran an elaborate cover-up of doping at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, saying the claims are impossible.
On Thursday The New York Times published claims from the former head of Russia’s anti-doping laboratory describing how he and Russia’s security services had conducted an operation to allow dozens of its athletes, including at least 15 medal winners, to dope during the Sochi Games. The report threatens to strip the country of its success in Sochi and to prevent Russian athletes from participating at this summer's Olympics in Brazil.
Today, two of the athletes accused of doping in the report said the allegations were baseless and didn't make sense. Aleksander Zubkov, a veteran bobsledder, and Aleksander Legkov, a champion skier, said they were considering legal action against The Times for defamation.
“These statements are just words. It’s just air not backed up with any facts," Legkov said at a news conference in Moscow.
Russian officials also attacked the publication, saying the claims were the invention of one man, Grigory Rodchenko, the former head of Russia’s anti-doping laboratory who revealed the scheme.
The article described how Rodchenko and Russia’s FSB security service had worked to switch out urine samples for dozens of Russian athletes during the Sochi Games, replacing them with clean samples. According to Rodchenko, the FSB was able to break into the supposedly tamper-proof sample bottles, letting him refill them. He also explained how he created specific drug cocktails for athletes, masked with alcoholic drinks — whiskey for men, martinis for women. His revelations follow those made by other Russian whistle-blowers in recent months of a state-sponsored doping cover-up that has plunged Russian sports into crisis.
But Legkov and Zubkov said Rodchenko's claims were far-fetched.
“I consider that it’s completely absurd. Alcohol and steroids — it even sounds funny,” Legkov said.
Both athletes said Rodchenko’s claims did not make sense as they had been drug-tested rigorously in the months before Sochi at competitions held in different countries by non-Russian anti-doping agencies.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has taken the allegations seriously, saying it will investigate the matter. The International Olympic Committee has also called for an investigation, calling the accusations “very detailed and very worrying."
Rodchenko provided The Times with emails and a spreadsheet listing the names of athletes whose samples needed cleaning from Russia’s sports ministry. So far he has not provided other proof, though he has offered to show WADA which samples he tampered with. An earlier WADA investigation found Rodchenko was at the center of a Russian state-sponsored cover-up of doping before and after Sochi.
Russia has been struggling to show that it can clean it up its anti-doping programs in time to be reinstated for the Rio Olympics this summer. The country’s track and field athletes have been suspended from international competition since a WADA investigation last year determined that Russia had conducted a massive cover-up among its athletes.
“It’s not very good news for Russia,” Craig Reedie, WADA’s president, told the Russian sports paper, R-Sport.
Russia only has a month to prove its anti-doping procedures are trustworthy enough for its athletes to compete in Brazil -- a decision on whether to reinstate Russian athletes will be made by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) in June.
There appeared little appetite in Moscow to investigate the new allegations.
Russia’s sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, told ABC News that Russia needed to look into Rodchenko’s claims but said they were “impossible.”
“Everything needs to be checked and we should not just trust the words of some heads of a laboratory," he said.
Deputy sports minister, Yuri Nagornykh, called the claims the product of Rodchenko’s “wild fantasy” and suggested the former doping expert was motivated by revenge.
Rodchenko was suspended as head of Russia’s anti-doping laboratory last November after he was placed by the WADA investigation at the center of the country’s huge doping cover-up. Nagornykh suggested his new allegations were retribution for this, though he did not address the fact that the same WADA investigation found Rodchenko had been operating with Russian government support -- a finding the Russian government has in theory accepted.
Some of Russia’s press also struggled to believe the accusations made against the country’s athletes.
“Theoretically, everything’s possible,” Russia’s top sports paper, Sports-Express, wrote in an editorial. “Even that aliens helped us at Sochi.”