ICARUS: How Bryan Fogel Exposed The Biggest Doping Scandal In Olympic History

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“It appears that the consequences for truth are high.”

Bryan Fogel 


Last week I sat down with Lance Armstrong to explore his competitive drive for greatness, precipitous fall from grace, and path forward. Irrespective of your opinion on Lance or that conversation, his story leaves us all with an indelible question:

Just how far will we go to be considered the best?

Obsessed with this inquiry, Bryan Fogel decided to answer it for himself.

Struck by the fact that Lance never once failed a single drug test, the avid cyclist, playwright, and filmmaker decided to make a documentary with one goal in mind: to prove the system in place to detect doping athletes was bullshit.

Because what the world watches on its sports fields should not be taken for granted as truth.

Icarus was premised on an audacious idea: Bryan would undertake an aggressive doping protocol, experimenting with a wide variety of performance enhancing drugs. He would observe the changes in his athletic performance. He would attempt to evade detection. And finally, he would extensively and transparently document the entire experience, sharing the whole endeavor on film.

To guide him through the mysterious and byzantine process of doping, Bryan enlists the professional aid of Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, a renegade Russian scientist and then pillar of his country’s “anti-doping” program. As they grow closer, it becomes clear that Rodchenkov is in fact the central figure in what we soon discover is Russia’s vast and elaborate state-sponsored Olympic doping program – a program that can be traced to Russia’s highest chains of command, all the way up to Vladamir Putin.

When the two realize they hold the power to reveal the biggest international sports scandal in living memory, Bryan’s academic exercise in self-experimentation quickly pivots into spy thriller territory — a high-stakes and quite spectacular collision of politics, sports, espionage and danger more John LeCarré than Morgan Spurlock.

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Icarus premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, where it won “The Orwell” Special Jury Award and the first ever Audience Choice Award at Sundance Film Festival London. It’s been called a “game-changing documentary” by Variety and “The Best Non-Fiction film of 2017″ by the Financial Times and was acquired by Netflix in a historic sale.

Bryan and the story behind the film have been profiled in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Financial Times, Variety , USA Today, Newsweek, The Atlantic, and The Guardian. Bryan has also discussed the film on NPR’s All Things Considered, NBC’s Meet The Press, ABC Dateline, Charlie Rose, Late Night with Seth Meyers, and Breakfast with the BBC.

An extraordinary portrait of self sacrifice in the interest of truth, Icarus is a gripping exposé that will forever color your perception of Olympic sport. But more than that, it’s a palpable glimpse into the dark realpolitik of the global sports arena and the staggering implications it has on our already strained geo-political landscape.

One of the best documentaries I have seen in recent memory, Icarus exemplifies the power of film to rewrite history.

Today, Bryan joins me to share his fascinating tale.

I sincerely hope you enjoy this exchange.

Peace + Plants,

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P.S. If you are moved by either the podcast or film to help Dr. Rodchenkov in his mission to make things right, please visit the GoFundMe page.

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Portraits & Video by David Zammit: Website | Instagram

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Show Notes

Notable People Discussed

  • Lance Armstrong: only rider to win 7 Tour de France titles (1999–2005) but later stripped of all titles after an investigation revealed that he was the key figure in a wide-ranging doping conspiracy while he compiled his Tour victories and podcast guest
  • Don Catlin, M.D.: anti-doping scientist and one of the founders of modern drug-testing in sport
  • Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov: former director of a Moscow laboratory, the Anti-Doping Centre, which was suspended by the World Anti-Doping Agency in November 2015
  • George Orwell: was an English novelist, essayist, journalist, and critic most famous for 1984* and Animal Farm*
  • Morgan Spurlock: American documentary filmmaker, humorist, television producer, screenwriter, and political activist
  • Jonathan Vaughters: former professional racing cyclist and current manager of the Cannondale–Drapac professional cycling team
  • Bobby Julich: former professional road bicycle racer who last rode for Team CSC in the UCI ProTour racing series
  • George Hincapie: former road bicycle racer, who competed as a professional between 1994 and 2012
  • Levi Leipheimer: former professional road racing cyclist, 2x US national champion, Olympic medalist
  • Tyler Hamilton: former pro road bicycle racer with the US Postal Service cycling team
  • Peter Pouly: French cyclist, specializing in mountain biking. Has also served a suspension of 1 year for doping
  • Paul Greengrass: film director, film producer, screenwriter and former journalist who originated the Jason Bourne series of films
  • Doug Liman:  film director and producer best known for Swingers, Go, The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Jumper, Fair Game, and Edge of Tomorrow
  • Errol Morris: film director primarily of documentaries examining and investigating, among other things, authorities and eccentrics
  • Laura Poitras: producer of documentary films, director of Citizenfour*
  • Alex Gibney: documentary film producer, director of The Armstrong Lie* film

Related Podcasts You Might Enjoy

Thanks to Jason Camiolo for production, audio engineering interstitial music and show notes; Shawn Patterson for graphics; and David Zammit for photography & videography. Theme music by Ana Leimma.

*Disclosure: Books and products denoted with an asterisk are hyperlinked to an affiliate program. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

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