17 August 2020

Study shows Russian decrease in performance

The recorded competition performance of Russian Olympic athletes decreased from 2004 to 2019 despite the alleged doping that took place in this era, a new study published by RunRepeat has found. The study involved 24,020 track and field results recorded by 400 Russian athletes who had competed at the Olympic Games during the 1993 to 2019 period. 

Detail from RunRepeat’s analysis…

The study found that since 2004, 76% of athletics disciplines reported a decreasing trend in yearly performance. It also found that since 2004, there was a marked drop in season best performances (see right). This reflects research conducted by The Sports Integrity Initiative, which found that Russian athletes got slower from 2005 onwards.

The 2003 edition was the first World Anti-Doping Code, taking effect from 2004. The first edition of the Prohibited List did not take effect until 2004. Before these harmonised rules came into effect, anti-doping was conducted by national and international federations. The study’s findings suggest that Russia may have eased back on in competition doping, causing the drop in performance, because of the introduction of the Code and Prohibited List.

In 2016, an investigation by BuzzFeed found that the number of world records had plateaued over a similar time frame. It suggested that some world records – set in the 1980s before doping controls were widespread – may never be broken.

Dr. Rodchnkov’s book…

In his book, Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov suggests that this resulted in a change in approach. Prohibited substances were not used in competition to win medals, but outside of competition to help athletes recover from brutal training regimes. ‘It is assumed that sport doping is harmful, but the science doesn’t bear that out’, writes the former Director of the Moscow Laboratory. ‘You might read that a weightlifter died young and was “a heavy steroid user for years”, but if he was overdosing on steroids, he was probably also engaging in an abusive diet and training regimen […] Training at the Olympic level puts significant strain on the body. Steroids reduce fatigue and trauma, and can also help muscles recover more quickly.’

If Russians were doping to improve their competition performance, it would appear that the policy wasn’t successful. The Study found that from 1993 to 2015, just 5.6% of the athletes analysed had their personal bests disqualified for doping. However, this assumes that the best results would be recorded by athletes caught doping during competition. This notion is dispelled by Dr. Rodchenkov in his book.

‘I disdain the notion of athletes being “clean”’, he writes. ‘Soviet and Russian athletes were almost always clean when they had to be, meaning we managed to wash out the evidence of their doping schemes before sending them into competition. They were clean in the same way a laundry shirt is clean – you wash dirty things to make them clean.’

Previous analysis by RunRepeat found that the results of banned athletes were better than clean athletes in 15 out of 21 disciplines. This would appear to suggest that the approach of using prohibited substances outside of competition is effective. Smart dopers are not caught during competition.

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