Icarus was the legendary son of the artisan Daedalus who perished when he flew beyond the safe limits of his artificial wings. As will be seen in this film, the figurative tragedy of Icarus could befall athletes that use drugs to give them a competitive edge. Bryan Fogle is a documentary filmmaker and amateur cyclist who has been competing in a variety of cycling races for nearly three decades. Early in this new Netflix Original documentary Icarus, Fogle’s latest film, there are shocking revelations of doping in professional sports that included the outing of legendary cyclist Lance Armstrong among other competitors inspite of his passing numerous drug tests. As will be thoroughly developed in this documentary, the ability of anti-drug testing laboratories to be deceived or manipulated is more widespread than many would suspect in spite of international agencies charged with their oversight.
We watch Fogel competing on the Haute Route, a 7-day, 1000-mile mountainous course in France, after which he makes the conscious decision to have Grigory Rodchenkov, a noted Olympic drug-testing laboratory director in Moscow, supervise his deliberate doping program. They cook up a recipe of performance-enhancing drugs, including testerone, hCG, and erythropoeitin that Fogel will inject and then, at a later date, undergo drug testing. After the 2014 Sochi Olympics, a German television station alleged that nearly all of the Russian athletes that had competed were guilty of doping, and the following political firestorm takes over much of this film’s story.
Following the Sochi scandal, Rodchenkov, a former elite amateur athlete who was himself an earlier recipient of anabolic steroids, is now under scrutiny by the World Anti-Doping Agency or WADA. He decides that the best course is to meet Fogle in Los Angeles and take some of his urine samples back to Russia for secret testing. After several months of doping and clearly improved performance stats, Bryan returns to compete in the Haute Route. His plan is to finish in the top echelon but during Stage 4 his cycle loses its gears and, with Rodchenko cheering him on, his performance still suffers.
Fogel visits Rodchenkov in Moscow after the race and enters through a series of backstairs in the laboratory building. The two men who have now bonded discuss the testing of Bryan’s samples and its aftermath. The subsequent WADA meeting in Geneva shows that the Russian doping scandal is real, according to Chairman Richard Pound, and that Rodchenkov be fired. The fallout is immediate as the Russian anti-doping laboratory is suspended and Rodchenkov resigns. It becomes obvious that Rodchenkov must leave Russia for his own safety and the tension of this documentary begins to escalate.
With the trappings of a real-life spy thriller, this Netflix original documentary Icarus reveals the high political stakes that are associated with international athletics. Viewers should understand that sports remain among the most important reflections of national stature that, since ancient times, have become a nonviolent substitute for armed conflict. Rodchenkov, a huge fan of author George Orwell, makes numerous analogies to the storyline of 1984 when it came to his subsequent treatment by the Russian government. As Rodchenkov’s revelations eventually get the attention of the US Department of Justice, in the spirit of All The President’s Men, truth ultimately becomes much stranger than fiction when the New York Times prints the former lab director’s personal story. Icarus is a compelling film and one of the most detailed exposures of the extremes to which one country would go to gain a competitive advantage for its athletes. A cautionary tale that absolutely must be seen, Icarus began streaming on the Netflix network on August 4, 2017.
The Netflix Original Documentary Icarus is available for streaming exclusively on Netflix.
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