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Couple who exposed Russia doping program talks at UCCS forum

Posted at 10:26 PM, Mar 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-20 00:30:24-04

COLORADO SPRINGS – A small, but well-attended forum at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs (UCCS) Tuesday night brought some of the most powerful voices in the global Olympic anti-doping movement to the forefront.

The forum, called “Athletes Rights & the Future of Anti-Doping Governance” featured panelists Kara Goucher, a two-time Olympic track & field runner and bronze medalist at the 2007 World Track & Field Championships (she was later awarded silver due to doping by the original silver medalist); Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) who exposed Lance Armstrong’s doping; and Vitaly and Yuliya Stepanov, the couple who exposed Russia’s state-run doping program.

Yuliya began by apologizing for doping, something she says she and virtually every other Russian track & field athlete did.  “My coach (taught) me how to do it and athletes from his team, they helped me to do it,” Yuliya explained.  “It was like normal.  I didn’t feel like (I) was do(ing) something wrong.  It was like everybody on my team.”

She met Vitaly while he was working for the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA), which he says was a sham organization. “In Russia, the responsibility of anti-doping officials is to pretend to fight doping, cover up doping use, and help Russia to be a superpower,” Vitaly told the audience.  “And, of course, be better than America.”

Ultimately, Vitaly was fired by the agency and Yuliya became injured, so the couple took what they knew to a German television network for a report that exposed the Russian doping program. They haven’t returned to Russia since.

Goucher finished in bronze medal position in the 2007 World Track & Field Championships in the 10,000-meter race, but the Turkish racer who finished second was found to have been doping and was stripped of the medal.  “I honestly don’t even know what place I finished anymore because there are so many people that have been caught up in doping scandals and who have served bans since,” Goucher said.  “We need to hold athletes accountable and also hold people in their circle accountable — coaches, doctors, trainers, people who are also involved in doping athletes, not just athletes.”

Tygart said implications from doping run far and wide.  “When those athletes cheat and take away the victory or the money or the sponsorships from those who are playing by the rules, they are absolutely victims and they do feel maligned, and robbed, frankly,” Tygart said.  He says destigmatizing the role of whistle-blower is encouraging clean athletes to report cheaters with diminished fear of repercussions.  “Of course there’s more work to do, and we’ve got to continue and sustain the effort.”