Arguments over Russian Olympic athletes and state-sponsored doping are heading to an unusual venue—the New York Supreme Court. Athletes Yana Romanova, Olga Zaytseva, and Olga Vilukhina (left to right above, with Ekaterina Shumilova second from right) were three of the four athletes on the Russian team that initially took silver in the women’s 4 X 6 kilometer biathlon relay in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, but Vilukhina and Romanova lost their medals (plus, in Vilukhina’s case, the silver she won in the individual sprint in those Games) and were banned from future Olympic competitions by the International Olympic Committee in November. As for Zaytseva, who went on to coach the Russian team after retiring in 2015, she lost her medal in an IOC decision in December. Now, those three athletes are suing Russian whistleblower Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov for libel in the U.S. court system, as Larry Neumeister of The Associated Press writes:
Three Russian biathletes sued the country’s former anti-doping laboratory director on Tuesday, saying he severely damaged or destroyed their careers with lies.
The athletes filed a $30 million libel lawsuit in Manhattan state Supreme Court against Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, who lives in hiding in the U.S.
Rodchenkov’s lawyer, Jim Walden, called the lawsuit “a silly stunt with no chance of survival.”
He added that “it will in no way affect Dr. Rodchenkov’s brave decision to continue to tell the truth and testify against wrong doers.”
…According to the lawsuits, the athletes had the silver medals they won in a relay event at the 2014 Olympics stripped by the IOC because of Rodchenkov’s “defamatory statements.”
“All of this professional carnage was based on the word of Rodchenkov, a career criminal, liar and cheater,” the lawsuit said.
Rodchenkov, who fled Russia two years ago, has said in email comments to the AP that athletes were complicit in the doping program after following “strict orders” from the state.
Rodchenkov was a key figure in the efforts to unmask Russia’s alleged state-sponsored doping, as detailed through the Icarus film and plenty of media reports. He’s currently in hiding in the U.S. thanks to threats of Russian government retribution. So it’s interesting at the very least that these athletes are now trying to go after him through a U.S. court.
Whether the athletes have much of a case is debatable, especially given how the IOC has ruled against them on multiple fronts so far, including declaring Rodchenkov to be a “truthful witness” in November. It’s also notable that other whistleblowers have spoken about the Russian doping efforts,so it’s not like Rodchenkov is the only one alleging doping here. But perhaps the court will find something compelling in their arguments. At the very least, this is something that will carry on the fight over Russian doping, and something that will do so in a substantially different forum than where most of those battles have happened so far.