Netflix documentary Icarus exposes Russian Olympic doping scandal

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American filmmaker Bryan Fogel set out to uncover the truth about doping in sports with his 2017 film Icarus. He succeeded, and unintentionally managed to expose one of the biggest scandals in sports history with his Academy Award winning documentary thriller.

The story begins with Fogel undertaking a personal experiment to assess the affects of doping on his sporting abilities. As a keen amateur cyclist, he followed a strict programme of self-injecting with the help of Russian scientist Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov.

Unknown to the film makers, Rodchenkov became the key whistle-blower in exposing the scandal. He was the Director of Laboratories for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) but revealed to Fogel that he was instructed by the Russian state to facilitate a secret doping programme for their Olympic athletes.

The haphazard nature of the documentary thriller is part and parcel to its appeal. Fogel’s initial experiment soon escalated into an exposé of Russia’s state-sponsored doping programme. The American filmmaker and Russian scientist developed a friendship through numerous skype calls and visits. Fogel then had to enable the safe extraction of Rodchenkov from Russia, due to the threat to his life as he was leaking top-secret evidence.

The film featured a sit-down interview with Rodchenkov who revealed that he was personally chosen by Vladimir Putin to be the scientific mastermind that would allow Russia to cheat in the Olympics. He also revealed exactly how this was done in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The evidence captured in this story is remarkable. The involvement of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and unexplained deaths of key officials involved make it a gripping watch. It is tense, mind-blowing and extremely well-made, gaining it an 8-star rating on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6333060/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1.

As well as being an eye-opening viewing for professional sports enthusiasts, Icarus proves to be gripping for all audiences, including those who may not necessarily be drawn to the subject.

The timeline develops as Fogel, Rodchenkov, and the legal advisers for the film prepare to publish the evidence. The story was sold to the New York Times and Fogel documents the goings on as the U.S. Department of Justice launch an investigation into Russian doping, and Rodchenkov becomes an enemy of those he has exposed.

As a result of Fogel’s investigation, a full investigation was launched by WADA into the possibility of a state-sponsored doping programme, and only 271 of the 389 Russian Olympians were allowed to compete in the 2016 Rio Olympics. With Lance Armstrong’s recent admission to using banned substances, Icarus exposes the fact that doping is a practice that many are engaging in but no-one is talking about.

The documentary ended after the source, Grigory Rochenkov, entered witness protection in the United States. Despite this, Bryan Fogel had stumbled upon documentary gold as he unintentionally blew the lid off the Russian Olympic doping scandal.

This documentary film, which is exclusively distributed by Netflix, can be viewed at https://www.netflix.com/watch/80168079?trackId=13752289&tctx=0%2C0%2C851548a1-83a7-4b2e-b63f-a5b18ad72750-678623%2C%2C.

For a comprehensive review by Variety magazine, visit http://variety.com/2017/film/reviews/icarus-review-sundance-1201964494/.

 

Hannah McSorley
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