“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” – George Orwell.
It’s unsurprising to learn Icarus won an Oscar upon its release as this documentary simultaneously shocks and entertains in equal measure, and you don’t need to be a sports addict to be enthralled by it.
The first part of the story is dedicated to writer/director Bryan Fogle’s idea to expose how athletes cheat the drugs tests designed to keep sport clean and fair.
Fogle, as a keen cyclist himself, always believed disgraced champion Lance Armstrong wasn’t as clean-cut as he claimed, so when it famously came out that Armstrong had in fact been taking performance-enhancing drugs (apparently cheating over 500 doping tests during his career) he became fascinated with the ‘how’ of it all.
Aiming to better his 14th placing at the famous French Haute Route in 2014 (seven days, 1,000 miles, “utterly destroyed”), Fogle embarks on a medical journey that sees him injecting ‘banned substances’ and discussing how to ‘beat the system’ with experts whom really shouldn’t be giving such advice (given their positions within sport and society).
So far, so admirable; Fogle literally putting his body on the line for the sake of his art. Enter Grigory Rodchenkov…
Rodchenkov, an affable man, is the head of Russia’s national anti-doping laboratory, the only one in the country endorsed by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), yet was recommended to Fogle as someone who was more than happy to help the filmmaker in his quest.
The dichotomy of this – a man in charge of making sure cheating wasn’t happening, but so at ease to discuss and assist with tricks of the trade – is deeply fascinating. One suspects Fogle wasn’t expecting to interact with someone of this magnitude but, as his journey deepens, the story takes yet another dramatic turn.
We discover Rodchenkov and his lab is being investigated by WADA in regards to foul play within all manner of Russian competition. This has implications all the way to the political top and Fogle ends up harbouring his new mentor in Los Angeles as allegations heat up in the press.
We then move into full-on thriller as Rodchenkov decides on his next move – should he, as his world crumbles around him, fall on his sword or reveal the truth behind the biggest global doping scandal in sporting history?
Written by Stoke & Dagger contributor James Barrett-Sterling (Twitter: @jimothyshondell). Icarus is available on Netflix now.