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Director Bryan Fogel spins into the Olympic doping scandal with 'Icarus'

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The documentary filmmaker and competitive cyclist takes a bike ride with John Horn to discuss how he met the key architect in the Russian Olympic doping program.

When Bryan Fogel was formulating the idea for the documentary, "Icarus," Lance Armstrong had just confessed to using performance-enhancing drugs and was stripped of his seven Tour de France wins.

But Fogel wanted to know if there was a deeper issue in the scandal.

"Every scientist in the world who's in the field of anti-doping are telling me that the system doesn't work," says Fogel, referring to the procedures for catching athletes who use drugs to cheat.

Fogel points out that Lance Armstrong never actually failed a drug test, somehow managing to get through the system more than 500 times.

"Is it Lance's fault or the system's fault?" Fogel asks. "Forget about cycling, everybody on planet earth cares about sports. Sports and the Olympics are being presented as clean. Lance Armstrong getting caught is being presented to the world as a major triumph in anti-doping, yet the only way they're able to get him is through a criminal investigation where his own teammates who did the same thing as him — and didn't get caught — rat him out in exchange for their own immunity."

Fogel is a competitive cyclist and in "Icarus" he used performance-enhancing drugs as an experiment to test the system. He wanted to see if doping could make him a better racer and whether or not he could compete in an unbelievably difficult race in Europe — the Haute Route — as a juiced athlete without failing a drug test.

Fogel enlisted Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, an anti-doping expert from Russia, to help him — only to find out that Rodchenkov was the mastermind behind a state-sanctioned doping program.

The Frame's John Horn & filmmaker Bryan Fogel get outfitted with audio gear before recording an interview while riding bikes through Pasadena.
The Frame's John Horn & filmmaker Bryan Fogel get outfitted with audio gear before recording an interview while riding bikes through Pasadena.

Fogel spoke with The Frame's John Horn about the film and what he learned. Appropriately enough, their talk took place during a bike ride on the streets of Pasadena.


On the pitch for the movie:

The pitch was, Hey, I'm going to do "Super Size Me" in the world of sports, investigating the anti-doping system at the same time, seeing exactly what these drugs do or not do, whether or not they're safe or harmful. And I'm going to be flying down mountains going 70 miles an hour.

On meeting Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov:

He was running the third largest anti-doping laboratory in the world, which was the Moscow WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) accredited lab. And he was overseeing the testing of all Russian athletes across all sports. He had also just overseen the testing of the Sochi Olympics. He was also overseeing the testing of all international competitions that were being held in Russia.

On Rodchenkov's involvement in the Russian doping scandal:

He was overseeing a state-sponsored program being funded by the Russian Ministry to essentially see that every Russian athlete across all sports would be able to dope and avoid detection. This system, according to him, had been in place since 1968. So it calls into question the entire history of sport and the history of the Olympic Games. He had been running the laboratory since 2005. And developed the system for Beijing, and for London.

On taking performance-enhancing drugs for the movie:

At the time, I finish the second Haute Route. I had done better, you know statistically as far as my performance, my power. But I didn't win the race. And I finished 27th out of 600 instead of 14. And so I had this "Oh s**t" moment -- my movie's ruined.

On how the film subject matter changed over the course of filming:

In the two years leading up to this, where I was the subject,  [Rodchenkov] was my adviser, he was my confidante, and he had been helping me make this movie that he really shouldn't have. And during this time we really developed a true friendship ... This was way beyond a documentary exploring something. All of a sudden he's in jeopardy of his life and we literally [reverse roles]. I become his protector and his adviser. And he becomes the subject. But at that moment, I wasn't thinking about the film.

To hear the full interview with Bryan Fogel, click on the player above.

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