Icarus successfully exposes Russian doping scandal

Sofia Snyder, co-sports editor

In Greek Mythology, Icarus was trying to escape with his father from Crete by making wings out of wax and feathers. As he began to fly, Icarus would show off his escape by flying over people who watched from below. Instead of flying to freedom with his father, Icarus enjoyed the wings so much that he flew to the sun, causing the wings to melt; Icarus never escaped and ended up dying.

Icarus is also the name of Brian Fogel’s Netflix documentary. Fogel, an amateur cyclist, wanted to see if he could successfully take steroids and get away with it, as so many Olympic athletes had done.

Fogel was told that Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, who, at the time, was the main doctor for Russia’s Olympic team, would be able to help him take steroids and pass all the drug tests needed to compete. The incredible thing about this documentary is the turn it quickly takes. Icarus was originally intended to be a story on how easy it is for athletes to cheat. But, as Fogel works more closely with Rodchenkov, more information unfolds about how Russia cheated in the Olympics.

What originally drew me to this documentary was the amount of buzz it had been getting; it even won the Academy Award for Best Documentary. I knew Russia had been banned from competing in PyeongChang because they were caught cheating at the 2014 Winter Olympics by giving their athletes performance-enhancing drugs. But, at the time, I didn’t know anything more or what had really been done.

As Fogel and Rodchenkov continue to work together on helping Fogel cheat, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) discovers that Russia had been cheating in the Olympics since the 1980s and that the government had state-sponsored doping throughout the country.

Fogel is thrown into the middle of it all. Just wanting to make a short film, he ends up saving his friend whose name was on the top of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s kill-list and flies him out to California.

What I love about the film is how Rodchenkov and Fogel have a strong bond and how Fogel risks everything to save his life. It was hard for me to believe throughout the film that Rodchenkov was the mastermind behind the Russian doping, since he was incredibly funny and accommodating to Fogel.

Fogel’s intent in making the documentary changed after he ended up capturing first-hand how Russia has been able to let dirty athletes pass drug tests and compete. My mind was blown by how simple it was for the Russians to do it; Rodchenkov revealed to Fogel how, at 3 a.m., Rodchenkov and other Russian doctors would swap out athletes’ dirty urine for clean urine through a hole in the wall of the chief medical testing building at the Sochi Olympics.

Icarus viewers learn about what happened. Yet, it feels like a mystery, because as the documentary was made, Fogel was discovering everything and the shock for the viewers is just as strong as the shock for Fogel.

Rodchenkov represents Icarus because he, like Icarus, became too confident of his skills and decided to show off to Fogel about how he could help him cheat. Instead, he “flew too close to the sun” and not only brought down the entire Russian Doping system but himself as well.