This piece originally ran in August 2017. We’ve updated it to include context about the Olympics banning Russia from the 2018 Winter Games.
In what once seemed like an unfathomable turn of events, Russia has been banned from competing in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. This comes after incontrovertible evidence emerged last year, much of it from a whistle-blower named Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, of a brazen and pervasive state-run doping program that has likely tainted Russian results for the entirety of modern Olympic history. And if you want to see how it went down, all you have to do turn on Netflix.
When director Bryan Fogel set out to make his jaw-dropping, absolutely insane doping documentary, Icarus, he didn’t know that he’d walk away with exclusive footage of what may go down as the biggest scandal in the history of sport. He was an amateur cyclist and second-time filmmaker in Los Angeles with a harebrained idea to try out doping himself, and do it on camera — kind of like Super Size Me of performance-enhancing drugs. He got his PEDs from an American doctor (they’re the same drugs used in controversial men’s anti-aging regimens), but had to look elsewhere for a scientist with a questionable moral compass who’d coach him in how to dope and get away with it. Fate brought him to a jolly, mustachioed guy in Russia with a penchant for shirtless Skype sessions. A guy who happened to be Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov. What Fogel didn’t know when he went to Moscow to trail his new friend around with a camera was that he’d wind up inside Russia’s national “anti-doping” laboratory, which was really a front for Russia’s state-run program to juice its Olympic athletes — with alleged ties to Vladimir Putin — of which Rodchenkov happened to be the chief architect.
Fogel’s realization that Rodchenkov isn’t just a guy in a Russian sports lab, but the guy (and possibly Putin’s fall guy), didn’t come till much later on. He also didn’t know that his footage from that day would become evidence of a criminal operation and an institutional conspiracy. Or that he’d be the one to buy Rodchenkov the plane ticket that got him to safe harbor in Los Angeles, just after two of his associates had dropped dead under suspicious circumstances and as Putin was denouncing Rodchenkov as an enemy of the state in the press. Or that he’d then take Rodchenkov’s mound of evidence to the New York Times, exposing Russia’s “dark-of-night” doping operation at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games — which involved Rodchencov’s working with the FSB (a Russian intelligence service, one of the successors to the KGB) to switch dirty urine samples for clean urine collected months earlier. All of this under the noses of World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) inspectors, and as Russia was winning the most medals of any country.
Rodchenkov’s revelations spurred an explosive 2016 report from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), led by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren, that laid out proof of at least 1,000 Russian athletes doping, in 30 sports — and that’s just 2011 to 2015. That report, in turn, nearly caused Russia’s forced withdrawal from the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. Back then, the IOC had made the stunning decision to allow Russia to compete, while banning over 100 athletes, chiefly the entire track-and-field team. Today’s action, which links directly to the evidence brought forth by Rodchenkov with the help of Fogel and Rodchenkov’s lawyer, Jim Walden, though, is perhaps the most stunning decision the IOC has ever made.
Documentary films often have a social impact, but rarely has one changed as many lives in real time as this one; expect the Academy Awards to take notice. I first watched Icarus at the Sundance Film Festival where, eight days after Trump’s inauguration, it won the inaugural Orwell Award, a special jury prize designated for “a film that reveals the truth at a time when truth is no longer a commodity.” Netflix bought it for $5 million, one of the biggest hauls for a nonfiction film in the festival’s history. Then I interviewed Fogel this August for its release, the very week that Robert Mueller was impaneling a grand jury for his investigation into Russia’s interference with our presidential election. This is a documentary that came together by blind accident, yet miraculously becomes more and more relevant over time.
Fogel named the movie after the Greek myth of a boy who, because of hubris, flew too close to the sun. Turns out flying too close to the retaliatory powers of an oligarchic state is also perilous. When we met for our riveting chat at the Crosby Street Hotel in Manhattan this summer, Fogel seemed jumpy. At one point, a stranger sat too close to us and Fogel had to move rooms to feel comfortable. He was on his way to Washington, D.C., to meet with lawmakers and tell them what he knows about how Russia operates.
Rodchenkov, for his part, is currently in the witness protection program. His lawyer, Walden, told reporters today that he will remain in hiding. “The Kremlin has proven to be very determined and difficult adversary for Grigory. I think the future ahead is hard,” said Walden. “For sure, I can say this without any doubt in my mind, he knows that he’s going to be looking over his shoulder for the rest of his life.”
Here’s my discussion with Fogel of how Russia’s doping program links to U.S. election tampering, what it’s like to have negative propaganda of yourself airing on Russian TV — oh, and injecting himself with performance-enhancing substances.
Wait, you’re going to D.C. to talk to Congress?
Representatives of members of Congress and the Senate. They just want to talk to me because, you know, the film is pretty explosive, and I think that comparisons can easily be made to what’s going on with the administration and the election hacking. Also, I think of anti-doping in sports and the IOC [International Olympic Committee] as an Illuminati-like organization. [Laughs.] This is apparently the first of many [meetings], because you still have the ongoing DOJ and FBI investigations; Grigory’s in protective custody; and the House subcommittee on investigation and oversight called a hearing on anti-doping and the whole Russian state-sponsored system that the film uncovers. Then you’ve got what’s going on with the daily insanity in our country, so it’s, uh … interesting. I’m in the middle of a global scandal!
[UPDATE FROM FOGEL: We met with about 20 chiefs of staff, primarily for senators and a couple congressional representatives, including Senators Mark Warner, Dianne Feinstein, Lindsey Graham, and Marco Rubio. They’re interested in holding congressional screenings in September, possible hearings, and essentially using this film in a bipartisan way to illuminate the extent to which Russia is interfering on a global level.
Regardless of the party of the senators, the response was universal. They were all interested in the story. The Democrats were just as interested as Republicans about the larger implications of Russian interference in the process.]
What do you see as the connections between Russian anti-doping and possible election tampering?
First, there was never anti-doping in Russia, period. It was just a doping program that subscribed to all these international protocols to create a front of an anti-doping program. A lot of these sanctions are like, “Oh, we’re going to sanction you until you get your business in order,” but it’s not like it was ever in order!
What Russia did in Sochi, that’s just criminal fraud. When you look at that extent of that program, it’s because the Olympics are so much bigger than sport. It’s Russia versus the USA, and China versus the USA — and in Russia and in China, the government controls sports, so the Olympics are them going to war every two years. That’s why they spent $50 billion on Sochi, more than any country had ever spent in Olympic history. It was that important for Putin to show the world that Russia was on par with China and America. And of course, the mandate when you spend $50 billion is, “We’re going to win!” Now they’re hosting the World Cup next summer, with the same mandate in place from Sochi.
If they’re willing to go to that extent for the Olympics, for soccer, for sport, do you think that they’re willing to hack into the DNC to corrupt our elections, to try and influence the Trump campaign? The answer would be very likely yes. What we brought forward in the film was forensically proven, it was scientifically proven, and Russia is still denying it.
McLaren’s report alleged 1,000 Russian athletes across all sports were doping. Grigory said it went back to the advent of anabolic steroids on the Olympic level in 1968 or 1970, so all through modern Olympic history. And then in the film, you see Putin’s press conference on December 23, 2016, when he says he doesn’t remember Grigory’s name. He is Russia’s Snowden, and you have the president of Russia going, “I don’t remember his name.” We’re seeing the same thing happen in our country — and we saw it with Lance Armstrong — this idea that the truth no longer matters, that it’s just you lie and you lie and you lie until it becomes true.
To your point, the Russian government has said Grigory acted alone, and has essentially called him an untrustworthy person and a traitorous liar.
Right. But I mean, there’s a pile of evidence, forensic examinations of the bottles and the samples — this is scientific. We’re dealing with the same thing, with an administration that is denying climate change. Meanwhile, icebergs are breaking off that are the size of Delaware.
Weren’t you in comedy right before you started making this?
I directed this movie Jewtopia that was based on a show I wrote which played Off Broadway for a number of years. I was trapped in Jewtopia; it wasn’t the film I wanted to make. [Icarus] really came from me trying to reinvent myself and go back to something I knew, which was cycling. It was my lifelong passion, and I’d had this curiosity for years about what these drugs did, like, If I did these drugs at 17, 18, 19, could I have been a professional athlete?
So this just fell in your lap.
Until it was right there in front of me, I never knew where this film was going to go. I set out with an idea that the anti-doping system in sports didn’t work. That idea was purely based on how my hero, Lance Armstrong — the most tested athlete in the history of sports, like 500 times during his career — had never been caught. And here it is, 2013, and he’s confessing. But he still hasn’t been caught. The only way they got him is his own teammates ratting him out in exchange for their own immunity.
So I started tracking down all these scientists and they all told me the same thing. “Can you still beat the system?” Yeah. “Does WADA work?” No. And I began thinking, “There’s a movie here. You’ve never watched someone do these drugs on camera.” And then I’m thinking, “Well, I’ve been riding my bike, so I’ll just do this. Who else will do this?”
I never imagined that, through event after event, that two years into the making of this film, I would find myself essentially sitting on a nuclear bomb of information. When you look at the evidence presented, it’s not just Sochi. I presented databases of London, of Beijing. Do you just wipe out all of Olympic history and start over? That is what’s presented in the film and in McLaren’s report, whether the IOC wants to admit that or not. The entire history of the Olympic Games has to, essentially, be called into question, as well as all the swimming world championships, wrestling world championships.
When did you realize that you had something bigger than what you’d started out looking for?
It was creeping up and creeping up. Forty-five minutes into the film, there’s this huge 180-degree pivot on November 9, 2015 — and it’s no longer about me and what I’m doing. That’s what it was like for me. For basically a year and a half it was just a trail of droppings, and then all of a sudden, there’s the bear. [Laughs.] When that happened, when Grigory’s telling me he’s afraid he’ll be killed, he still hadn’t told me what he had done! I had no idea! When he first comes to L.A., he’s defiant for a couple days. He’s angry because he’s had to resign from his job, the lab’s shut down.
[Note: November 2015 is when WADA released a report (prior to the McLaren report) that was restricted to track and field, alleging Russia had a state-sponsored doping program and identifying Rodchenkov as the linchpin of it.]
That’s the moment in the film when you bought him a plane ticket to Los Angeles, right?
How could he fly to the U.S. if Russia was after him?
He had a visa to be lecturing in the United States, because he had been invited to different sports symposiums over the years.
[Fogel starts whispering and suspiciously eying an oblivious guy on his cell phone who has sat down near us.]
We could go somewhere else.
[We move locations.]
I am! I had bodyguards around me 24/7 in London [recently, while doing press for Icarus]. It’s been really stressful for me.
Yeah, if I had known what I was getting into … [sighs]. But it’s not like I could walk away. It was like, “Okay, I’m in this, and this guy who’s now my friend — we’ve been shooting for a year and a half and he’s been helping me make this movie and doing all these things he shouldn’t have been doing all along — is now telling me he’s going to be killed.” I’m watching the news, and it’s all over CNN. I’m seeing Putin on state TV, as you see in the film, going, “Responsibility should be personalized and absolute.” Those are the words that he said. Forty-eight hours later, Grigory’s in L.A. That was it.
And then two of his close colleagues died unexpectedly, within weeks of each other, in February 2016. One was Nikita Kamayev, a former head of the anti-doping agency and relatively young.
Killed or died of a heart attack at 52 years old. Guy had never had a health problem in the world. He was a lifelong athlete.
Grigory was very upset in the film.
He and Nikita were very, very close friends and were both operating the scandal from opposite sides; Nikita’s from RUSADA, the anti-doping agency responsible for collecting the samples and Grigory was in the lab. Two days before [Nikita died], Grigory was on the phone with Nikita in Russia for three hours. And Nikita’s telling Grigory that he’s talking to David Walsh, the journalist who went after Lance Armstrong. He’s the most respected journalist in sports, and he’s figuring out how to meet Nikita in London, or Walsh will come to Moscow, but either way, Nikita will spill the beans. Nikita says he’s also writing a book. Two days later, he’s dead.
And a second person died within the same two weeks?
Vyacheslav Sinev. He was the head of RUSADA before Nikita, and he was 59 years old. He’d had some health problems, so it’s not as blatant, but the timing is questionable. If you know the story as I know it, nobody had the evidence other than Grigory. Nikita had what RUSADA was doing and the collection, but he was not in the lab, what the athletes were taking, the protocols. With Nikita out of the picture, there was nobody else [other than Grigory] who could have brought this story forward.
Have you gotten any direct or veiled threats from Russia?
There’ve been a lot of TV programs on me in Russia. They hacked Grigory’s Russian email account, so they had all the emails I’d sent to Grigory from the beginning to when I got him out of Moscow. So they did shows examining our emails and had actors playing me and they turned Grigory into an animated character. [Russian TV] has selfies that we’d taken together. One of the craziest ones is I’d sent him a photo of us during his first visit to L.A., when we’re sitting around a table with all the bottles of my urine he was bringing back to Moscow. All of a sudden, that’s in Russian news, like, a year ago, and I’m going, “Oh my god, how do they have that photo?” They were hacking his Skype conversations with his sister while he was in L.A. It’s scary.
Have you felt like your life might be in danger?
I hope not, because I’m the messenger. I didn’t “do” anything. I only helped a friend who believed he would be killed. I like Russia. I love Russians! There’s no personal vendetta involved. It’s just that this story came to me, and as a filmmaker and journalist, I had to help bring it forward as best I could.
You met up with Grigory in Moscow and took your cameras into his lab just two months before WADA raided the place. So doesn’t that mean you have the only footage inside that place?
Right. We brought cameras in September of 2015; the shit hit the fan that November.
But how did you even have cameras in that lab and not get detained?
We shouldn’t have had those cameras in there, but Grigory was so loved by everyone in the lab, and because he was the boss, when we brought in those cameras, everyone was just like, “Oh yeah, it’s fine.”
Wasn’t the FSB in the parking lot?
No, because we were there on an off day. They weren’t swapping the urine that day. It was, like, off-season. [Laughs.]
Then the lab shut down and Grigory resigned. Did you then have to go to extraordinary lengths to protect what you had?
Yes. Everything changed. We went to encrypted emails, we took everything offline. We did nothing with servers. We had all our information on different hard drives we’d share in the office, so we were buckling down on how we were editing the film, how footage was transferred. We moved offices multiple times just to be careful. It was a really, really stressful time between November 2015 and us going to the New York Times [in the spring of 2016].
Why did you take Grigory’s story public? A lot of people would have saved that for the film.
There was this feeling of, if the story is out and it’s in the public Zeitgeist, Grigory becomes safer because now it’s in the news, and we’re not sitting on it. We sat on that information for six months, knowing what we had but not ready to bring it forward because there was so much work involved to create this dossier of articles and emails and spreadsheets, which we gave the Times.
It was a tremendous project to do that, and we had to figure out the best way. Should we put it forward in the film, or let the news go with it? Ultimately, our decision, which was the right decision, was, if we were to just put it forward in a film like a news piece, people would’ve said, “This is BS, he’s a liar, how do you prove this and that?” We didn’t have to the ability to go in and retest the Olympic samples sitting in the laboratory. We didn’t have forensic scientists. It became clear that the only way to break this story was to bring it to a publication like the New York Times, present them with everything, let them go, “Okay, we’re willing to run this story and put our name and reputation on the line because we believe this, and what you’ve presented is pretty solid and corroborated.” And let that then be proven, which it was in the McLaren investigation.
There’s an insane story in the film about how the government was about to send Grigory to jail for selling steroids to the national team — until a senior Russian official got Putin to have him released to run doping for the London and Sochi Games. Is that when he started to feel like “a slave,” as he puts it?
On the eve of the London Games, he’s advising the entire Russian team on their doping protocols, while he’s about to go to jail for the rest of his life for essentially selling them steroids, while he’s recovering from a suicide attempt — because he thought his life was over because the government had discredited him and was about to send him to jail. The interesting thing with vestiges of Communism and Stalin, which I think so many Russians are still living under, is that the state can turn on you at any time.
This was going on for the athletes in the program, too, though we don’t get into this in the film. Grigory says he had collected 16,000 clean samples before the lab was raided by WADA [in November 2015]. He had this clean urine database so that he could swap out the dirty urine of a Russian athlete with the clean urine of another. Along the way, many, many, many Russian athletes who were under the state-sponsored system were suddenly found doping, meaning he would have to report them as doping — the reason being that the ministry knew that if there were never positives and no one got caught, it would lead to “What’s going on?” Over the years they had to keep sacrificing lambs, so athletes who believed they were being protected by the ministry were suddenly found positive. These were always the athletes who were no longer champions, were never going to be champions – fourth, fifth, sixth place, had won but had never won in the eight years prior. They were sacrificed to allow this program to keep going.
Grigory also realized he was the same way. You have to keep throwing people under the bus every once in awhile for the system to go on. He realizes that at any moment, he can be thrown under the bus.
If he felt like a slave, why was he so willing to help you dope and evade testing in the beginning? He seemed so cheery about the whole thing.
To this day, it still baffles me. I think he really enjoyed the cat-and-mouse game. When I presented him with this, it was no big deal to him because this is what he’s been doing his whole life anyway. We formed this friendship, and we talked a bunch. In Grigory’s mind, I think it was also like, Well, he’s an amateur, so I’m really not doing anything wrong. Certainly, he never should’ve been advising me or been willing to test those samples in his lab because it goes against all WADA code, amateur or non-amateur. But I think he thought it was fun. He’s making a movie and coming out to L.A.! He’s a gregarious guy and he likes mischief.
I also told him — and I really, really meant it — that I was going to show him the film before it came out, and that I was never going to do anything to put him in harm’s way. I had this weight on my shoulders. There were many times before we took the turn when I was talking to Dan Cogan, my producer, and going, “Oh my god, the guy’s at my kitchen table smuggling my piss back to Moscow. I don’t know what he’s thinking. We just filmed the whole thing, and at some point, Dan, we’re going to have to figure out what to do, because there are ramifications for this person’s life.”
Do you think that he was already thinking of turning over evidence? Was helping you at the beginning part of the shift for him?
There was certainly a shifting. This guy is a genius on the scientific level. He was keeping stuff. He took those pictures [inside the lab] in Sochi. He sent emails to the ministry right after Sochi, right around the time I met him, saying that he believed this system of urine swapping had reached its logical conclusion and this was not going to be able to continue. Russia was pushing it further than they ever should have pushed it. I think in the back of his mind, Grigory knew that at some point, things would plummet to the earth — and he had told them this and they didn’t stop.
He had become their shit-bag: He was no longer a scientist, he was a urine-swapper. He’d enjoyed the scientific cat-and-mouse game, because he viewed it as, “Hey, every scientist is doing this, every athlete’s doing this, Lance …” As long as it was that, he was in. Once it became, “You’re not a scientist, you’re just the guy to help us run the lab and break into bottles,” that changed for him. I think at that point, he also viewed himself as disposable, because he was purely involved in a criminal fraud.
There’s the scene in the movie where he’s in L.A. and he has my urine in the car and I’m driving him to the airport to fly back to Moscow, and I go, “Who owns the lab?” and he says, “The state, WADA. We’ll see if I survive.” So he was aware that his time might be up. And I do believe that, as our friendship and our working together progressed, I became his lifeline.
I read some articles that questioned whether or not his whistle-blowing was authentic. He did it, or you encouraged him to do it, because being in the public eye made him a tougher target for assassination. I guess that’s a very American perspective, looking down on someone like, “Oh, he did it to save himself,” and finding that person to be lesser than someone who was blowing the lid because of a moral quandary.
Yeah. It’s very easy for the U.S. or Western Europe to have this moral line of right versus wrong, and you go, “Well, that’s breaking the law.” “Why?” “Because it’s the law.”
In Russia, and I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, you have a thousand-year history of a country that has struggled financially. Outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg, these two pockets of wealth, the vast majority of Russia is still living in poverty. So the Russian mentality, throughout all these years and especially during Communism, was to always skim off the top, always get one extra piece of bread. Grigory came from a system where [while running track in high school] he was being doped when he was 15! Everybody was doing this.
So I don’t think he objected to the system; that’s how all of Russian business is. What changed was, I think, (a) his life being under threat, (b) that he was disposable, and (c) he had real personal guilt in what he believed was his inadvertent participation of the attack into Ukraine and Crimea [after the Sochi Games in early 2014]. He felt that Russia winning those 33 Olympic medals under this umbrella of fraud had allowed Putin’s ratings to go through the roof, which facilitated his going into Ukraine and Crimea.
A declassified U.S. intelligence report posits that Russia’s interference in the U.S. presidential election was in part a retaliation for McLaren’s WADA findings, which Putin sees as U.S.-led efforts to defame Russia. Doesn’t this tie Grigory directly to the election scandal?
I just know what I read in the FBI, CIA, and NSA reports that came out in early January of this year. The intelligence community believed Russia hacked our election. One of the reasons was retaliation for what they saw as American involvement in unveiling Russia’s state-sponsored doping program. And that’s because the story was broken through the New York Times, and that Grigory was in America, and that the DOJ and FBI had gotten involved in the investigation of what was alleged in the Times.
What would be the ideal outcome of this film coming out for you?
I don’t know, because I don’t have a knife in the fight. There are two sides to this. The one side is: Can anti-doping, clean sports ever exist? Ever? I think the answer to that is unequivocally no. It is 100 percent impossible. This is an unwinnable war — unless you believe that humans have stopped evolving, and that science and medicine and technology have stopped evolving. To me this is like Prohibition or trying to abolish marijuana. An individual athlete making that decision, if you’re A-Rod or Barry Bonds … I don’t think that’s ever going to stop. It’s always going to be in our nature to want to have an edge.
The other question is whether you ban Russia or not, and that’s a really hard question because, just like you see in my film, when you get behind the news story, you get into individual lives. You’re gonna tell some 16-year-old kid they can’t compete in the Olympics because their country had a state-sponsored doping program — because that was the only thing they knew?
Have you been able to speak with Grigory since he entered the witness protection program?
I haven’t seen him in a year. I’ve been able to keep tabs on how he’s doing, and he was able to see the film. And I was able to arrange, through his attorneys, a way to have a talk with him, so I know he’s okay right now, and his family is okay.
How is your body? What happened to your body taking all those PEDs?
All good things!
Did you, like, age backwards?
Yeah. From what I’ve seen with all the hormone therapy and whatever you want to consider doping, I’ve only seen positive effects. I mean, the same thing that’s considered as doping is the same thing being sold as anti-aging. On one hand, we’re being told, “This is bad for you,” and on the other hand, we’re being told that this is the fountain of youth. It’s great to take HGH, I guess, if you want to help your body recover in age, but if you’re Peyton Manning and you actually need it to recover to do your job as a professional athlete, which you’re being paid tens of millions of dollars to do, that’s wrong.
So what did you take?
HGH, testosterone, erythropoietin [EPO], thyroid hormones, DHEA [a steroid], HCG [a weight-loss hormone], all sorts of different vitamin injections.
Have you kept taking them?
I still take testosterone, which I personally have found is just great. It’s very subtle, but it helps how I feel. Like, I’m alert, clear. I’m now in my early 40s and basically, from the time you’re about 30, your testosterone just starts falling off a cliff, and apparently when you hit 40 it just goes off a cliff. So if I can have the testosterone level of a 21-year-old, why not? [Laughs.] I don’t see the harm in it!
And that doctor who’s prescribing that stuff to you in the film, it’s legal and fine to do it?
It’s totally legal to get on a hormone program — for anybody who’s not a professional athlete. There’s nothing illegal about being prescribed these supplements for like, a human-growth-hormone deficiency, which every person on the planet has after the age of 17, because after 18 we stop making growth hormones. There’s nothing wrong being prescribed testosterone for low testosterone, and every man on the planet over 35 basically has low testosterone compared to what it was in your 20s! Or you know, if you have a thyroid problem and need to increase your metabolism. It’s only if you’re a professional athlete competing under the rules of WADA and sport that these substances are banned.
The whole impetus for taking PEDs was to see if you’d improve your placement in that amateur bike race from the year before when you rode clean. You didn’t. Why’s that?
I had a mechanical [problem], which cost me an hour. Had I not encountered all those problems, I would’ve finished 12th or 13th of the 660 people who started.
You did so well NOT on drugs!
The thing is, after I got out of that race the first year, I couldn’t walk. I finished 14th out of 440 and I spent the next month recovering, like, on crutches. I was destroyed. In the second year, I finished the race and I was like, “Bring on the next week!” It was a pretty radical difference in my recovery, and I had trained very, very similarly the first and second year. The testosterone and HGH, and all that stuff seemed to help me recover.
Are you able to still watch the Tour de France and be a fan of it?
Oh, yeah. Thing is, whether they dope or not, what athletes do is still spectacular. [Doping] doesn’t take the place of tens of thousands of hours of training. I think that if nobody had been doping, Lance would’ve been Lance. I don’t care what anybody says: That guy won seven tours. What he accomplished as an athlete is one of the most spectacular feats that will ever be accomplished in sports history. I mean, did he do all sorts of bad shit and hurt people like a sociopath and ruin lives? Yeah. Did he take it too far? Absolutely. But was his accomplishment as an athlete spectacular? It’s undeniable. I mean, they haven’t given those tours to anyone else, because they were all doping too!
Do you think the Russians will be able to host the World Cup?
I think so. We’re in a world of Orwellian 1984 doublethink. There doesn’t seem to be any punishment for actions, no matter who you are or what you do. And there’s way too much money involved. They’ve built stadiums! It’s not like you just pull it from them. Where do you take it?
What was the most insane Russia or cheating fact you found?
Grigory told me, unsubstantiated, that certain guys in the ministry had come to him and asked him to swap some Ukrainian samples so that Ukrainian athletes would be found positive when they were negative, and he said no and refused to do it.
Do you still have to pinch yourself that you’re releasing a Russian conspiracy movie in the middle of a Russian conspiracy?
I can’t believe the timing. Even when we first got into Sundance [at the end of 2016] it was like, “Hey, Clinton’s going to win.” Then Trump gets elected, Russia’s in the news every day. And it’s like, “Have I got a Russia story for you!”