‘April Fools' Day joke?’ Sportsmen ridicule Sochi doping allegations, Russia may sue NYT

The Russian Sports Ministry could sue the New York Times over an article citing claims that the Russian team were part of a doping program during the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, a deputy minister said. The official added that Russia rejects the claims.

“Yes, we are considering a lawsuit,” Deputy Minister of Sports Yury Nagornykh told TASS. “They asked us to give comments on 66 athletes who are a part of Russia’s ‘doping program’. We said that we don’t have such a program.”

He added that NYT journalists have not provided the Russian Sports Ministry with a list of the athletes included in the alleged program, even though Russian officials have requested one.

A controversial report released in the New York Times on Thursday cited the ex-chief of Russia’s anti-doping laboratory, Grigory Rodchenkov. He mentioned Russia’s so-called doping program’, an alleged “decade-long effort to perfect” Russia’s performance at international competitions.

Rodchenkov claimed that Russian gold medal winners, including bobsledder Alexander Zubkov, cross-country skier Alexander Legkov and skeleton champion Alexander Tretyakov, doped during the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games.

In the article, the former chief of Russia’s anti-doping laboratory claimed that “he dissolved the drugs in alcohol – Chivas whiskey for men, Martini vermouth for women.”

Several paragraphs of the article are devoted to the topic of alleged switching of urine samples. Rodchenkov claimed that he and an anonymous colleague managed to dump “the tainted urine into a nearby toilet, washed out the bottles, dried them with filter paper and filled them with urine” which didn’t contain prohibited substances.

‘Sounds like April Fools' Day joke’: Russian sportsmen puzzled, furious

Legkov and Zubkov who took part in the conference said that the accusations felt like April jokes to them. They added that have never met Rodchenkov. The same comments had previously been made by Tretyakov, the third sportsman named by NYT, who wasn’t present at the conference.

“What happened yesterday [the release of NYT article] is totally absurd. Alcohol with steroids is ridiculous. I didn’t take a sip of alcohol when I was meeting with friends because I was preparing for the Olympic Games. I know nothing about steroids, I don’t know how they look like. I took the article as an April joke,” said Legkov.

According to Legkov, who won gold in cross-country skiing and silver in the men’s team cross-country skiing in Sochi, WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) took at least 33 samples from him when he was preparing for the Olympic Games.

He added that he believes the reasons behind the release of the NYT article are purely political.

“It is a political game. Everybody is set against our country because it is one of the strongest in the world,” he said, calling Rodchenkov’s comments groundless.

Zubkov who won two gold medals in the bobsleigh added that he repeatedly gave his samples to WADA and RUSADA (Russian Anti-Doping Agency) during the Sochi Olympics. “There wasn’t any case of suspicion. [Rodchenkov's] statement is marasmus,” he said.

Tretyakov in earlier interviews to Match TV speculated about the absurdity of the idea.

“If you once drink such a cocktail, it won’t help, will it? One needs to drink it every day ... and [you need to do it] during the Olympic Games. My competition started on the seventh day [of the Olympics]. I would have been drunk,” said Tretyakov who won gold in the skeleton event.

Vladislav Tretyak, president of the Ice Hockey Federation of Russia and three-time Olympic champion, said he is “shocked.”

“[The Russian hockey] team was under the control of doping organizations. They could come at any time and take a sample. We need to understand and verify Rodchenkov’s words,” he added.

“Athletes drink Chivas before competing? I can’t take it seriously,” said cross-country skier Sergey Ustiugov, who represented Russia in Sochi.

‘The man who have a grudge against Russian anti-doping system’ – Russian Sports Ministry

Rodchenkov might have a grudge against the anti-doping system, Deputy Minister of Sports Yury Nagornykh said at the conference.

“He might have been dissatisfied with his current position or have unrealized creative ambitions. It may also be the season of the year, which affects people,” Nagornykh said.

READ MORE: World Anti-Doping Agency calls for Russia to be suspended from athletics over alleged doping fraud 

“Cocktails? It’s absurd. They [the athletes] were being monitored during and after the Olympics. The accusations against them …are groundless,” Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said, adding that Russian authorities will thoroughly examine the article.

According to Mutko, Rodchenkov comments are merely "speculations of a man who was once accused [of doping manipulations]."

"The offended man may say anything," he said.

Rodchenkov has frequently been in the headlines in recent years. In 2015 the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) published a report accusing him of receiving bribes from athletes to suppress positive tests. He was also accused of destroying 1,417 samples requested by the investigation.

A WADA committee called for his resignation and Rodchenkov promptly stepped down.

Since January, Rodchenkov has been living in Los Angeles.