'Icarus': How amateur cyclist stumbled into secret world of Russian doping

Filmmaker Bryan Fogel started out making a documentary about taking performance-enhancing drugs but then everything changed.
9:12 | 08/10/17

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Transcript for 'Icarus': How amateur cyclist stumbled into secret world of Russian doping
Tonight the story of an amateur cyclist who set out to learn about performance-enhancing drugs but instead stumbled upon a massive and allegedly state-run Russian conspiracy. For decades it seems Russian olympic athletes have been secretly doping to gain a competitive edge, and now a scientist from deep within the operation is saying that the government took part in covering it up. Here's "Nightline" co-anchor Dan Harris. A lot of news on the Russian investigation -- Reporter: For months Russia has been dominating the headlines. Let's talk about Russia. Election night -- Reporter: Casting a persistent cloud over the trump administration. Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. Reporter: But the meddling in our election was not the first time Russia has tried to exert power through deception. Sochi, 2014. A grand spectacle of Russian glory at the 22nd winter olympic games. The host country taking home an impressive 13 gold medals. Spiking national pride and boosting the stature of president Vladimir Putin. But behind the pomp and pageantry an explosive secret. Russia had pulled off the single biggest fraud in the history of sport. Reporter: A stunning accusation. Russia cheated, taking advantage of its home turf. Dozens of Russian athletes, including 15 of the 33 Russian medal winners, were part of a state-run doping program. Reporter: At the center, a Russian scientist, Dr. Grigory rodchenkov. Big boss Vladimir Putin saying we have to show the best result in Sochi. Two people connected with the Russian doping program are already dead. There never was anti-doping in Russia. Ever. Reporter: An explosive story now chronicled in the new Netflix documentary "Icarus." Be very careful recording. Would it be safe to say when you started this project you had no idea what you were getting into? 100%. No idea. The ability to go day after day -- Reporter: Filmmaker and amateur cyclist Bryan fogle says he initially set out to understand how his hero, Lance Armstrong, had managed to get clean drug tests for years despite his doping. If Lance had been able to do this and everybody else, forget about cycling. What did this mean for every sport on planet Earth? Going to do an injection. Exciting. Reporter: So fogh'll decided to make himself the Guinea pig. He'd take P.E.D.S and see if he too could pass the drug test. Filming every step along the way. I was very interested to see if it was still possible to evade detection. For help with his project he was referred to Dr. Grigory rodchenkov, who at the time ran Russia's anti-doping lab. Grigory agrees to help smuggle my urine into his Moscow laboratory to figure out when I would test negatively. That in and of itself was pretty mind-boggling because he should not have been doing that to begin with. Did you start your program? I did. This is my morning pill-popping routine. And then I prepare the testosterone. Reporter: Why did he agree to help you? I came at him as an athlete, and I think the allure of being part of the movie. The other part of that is he had just gotten out of the Sochi olympics. Reporter: But months after Fogel started working with rodchenkov -- 99% of Russian athletes are guilty of doping. Reporter: Explosive revelations. It's worse than we thought. Reporter: At what point did you know my story is way bigger? Putin appears on state telesion. And not only does he deny everything, he says that there was no state-sponsored doping in Russia. And about 12 hours after that statement grigory is on a call to me and he has two fsb agents, kgb agents, living in his home protecting him. And he tells me that they're going to kill him. The problem is to survive. Listen, I -- joking -- you know, aside. I'm just like -- I'm worried about you. Yes. Yes. And in that moment I knew that the movie and the story that I thought that I was setting out to make was over. Are you in any danger? Yes. I need to escape. Putin will kill me. Holy . The biggest thing at that moment is that I had this person's life in my hands. Reporter: Fogel says he immediately bought rodchenkov a flight out of Moscow to the U.S. He says rodchenkov brought something with him, a hard drive filled with documents detailing Russia's doping program. I realize that not only am I sitting on a nuclear bomb of information that changes all of sport history, he had come preparing to blow the lid off of this. Reporter: According to rodchenkov, during the Sochi games Russian intelligence agents posed as maintenance workers entering the athlete testing lab, then breaking into tamper-proof collection bottles and swapping out dirty urine of Russian athletes for clean samples. Because they controlled, you know, everything about those olympic games, that they had the lock, they had the key, they ran the bank, they operated the vault, they could essentially facilitate, you know, whatever they wanted. Reporter: The scam, rodchenkov says, allowed Russian athletes to continue doping throughout the olympic games, giving them an advantage over other countries. Why was it so important for Putin that his teams rack up a lot of gold? Everything with the olympic games was to demonstrate that Russia had risen off its knees, that it was a great power, and that it was basically a peer competitor to big countries such as the United States. Reporter: In the film a stunning conversation about the alleged scope of Russian doping. Does Russia have a systematic statewide doping system in place to cheat the olympics? Yes. Were you the mastermind of a statewide system that cheated the olympics? Of course. Yes. Russia won a total of 73 medals in the 2008 beijing olympics. How many of those athletes were dirty? 30. Russia won 81 total medals in london.how many of those were total? Or even more. 50% for sure. Let it be 50%. They were earned using special program. State-sponsored, of course. Was Putin aware of the existence of the Russian doping system? Yes. Aware of my name. He was doping and anti-doping. He was the venom and the anti-venom. Reporter: Once safely in the U.S., rodchenkov decided to go sxub F public and now Fogel was now deeply intertwined. "New York Times" is breaking tomorrow. Tomorrow? He says rodchenkov was tired of hiding after the Sochi games. Instead of using the science, the science you developed to get around the system, you abandoned the science. Yes. The most important, yes. Forget about this. This was no longer science to him. This was just outright fraud. And he realized that this system was not going to last. So you think he saw you as a way to expose what he wanted to expose? I believe that that's what happened over time. Yes. Reporter: International outrage ensued. Russia's participation in the 2016 summer games put into jeopardy. The president of the international olympic committee, or ioc, called the alleged scheme an unimaginable level of criminality. The world anti-doping association, or wada, would back up rodchenkov's claims about the Sochi doping plan in a July 2016 report. Ultimately, though, only the Russian track and field team would be blocked from competing in Rio. Putin has continued to deny the allegations. I doubt that he ordered the actual doping to happen but that he made clear that he wanted the athletes to win at any cost. Reporter: U.S. Intelligence agencies say the exposure of the doping scandal was one of Russia's motivations for interfering in the 2016 presidential election. Given your perspective on Russia now, having been through what you've been through, what would you say to those who doubt all of this? Watch this film. And then tell me or tell the world that you doubt what Russia is capable of. It's that clear and simple. Reporter: For "Nightline" I'm Dan Harris in New York. "Icarus" is currently available worldwide on Netflix.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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