Alexander Zhukov, center left, president of Russia’s Olympic Committee, and Patriarch Kirill, center right, of the Russian Orthodox Church, with Russia’s Olympic national team outside the Assumption Cathedral at the Kremlin, in Moscow. (Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP)

The Russians may seem to be taking thug life to a new state-sponsored, superpower level, whether it’s the reported cheating for the Olympics or hacking the Democrats. But the Russians did not invent duplicity. There’s a fundamental rule in sports that covers this idea: If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying. The notion that someone would unfairly seek an advantage in the Olympics goes back to ancient Greece, where statues of cheaters were placed on the way into the stadium to certify their disgrace. Modern science and nutrition bring new challenges. The United States’ Tom Hicks won the marathon at the 1904 Games in St. Louis, reportedly while snacking on brandy, egg white and strychnine. Another competitor, Fred Lorz, arrived back at the stadium first and was crowned the victor by Alice Roosevelt, President Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter. They soon learned that Lorz rode much of the way in a car, claiming he did it as a joke. The Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) didn’t think it was so funny, banning him from competition—but lifting the ban in time for him to win the 1905 Boston Marathon. Cheating no longer seems as quaint. In an age in which breakthroughs in testing try to keep pace with breakthroughs in science, it’s no longer a matter of if people will cheat, but whether they’ll do it on their own, with the aid of their coach, the encouragement of their federation or the support of the state—or if they’ll even know what the coach, federation or state is doing to them. We now have differing cultural and political styles. Nations that are, or were, communist lean toward state-sponsored programs. Capitalists tend to feature rugged-individualism cheating, in which every athlete is an entrepreneur. The East Germans set the bar for state-supported cheating until reunification in 1990. In 1993, documents emerged showing the Stasi, the East German secret police, had supervised doping of Olympic athletes since 1971. Exhibit No. 1 was shot-putter Heidi Krieger, who won a gold medal at the 1986 European championships. After unknowingly taking huge amounts of male hormones, she now lives as a man, Andreas Krieger. “The coaches pretended to be concerned about our health,” Krieger told Newsweek in 2014. “For every pill there was a logical explanation.” Then came Russia’s 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. In its aftermath, a series of press exposés led to a recent bombshell in which Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of Russia’s national anti-doping laboratory, detailed an organized doping campaign administered by the sports ministry and Federal Security Service (FSB, the KGB’s successor) that involved at least 15 medalists. Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko called Rodchenkov’s allegations “absurd.” Three days later, Mutko acknowledged they were true, saying he was “ashamed” of the athletes and blaming them “for trying to deceive us.” On July 18, a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren alleged that there was a systemic doping campaign before and after Sochi, calling for Russia to be banned from Rio. The International Olympic Committee refused to impose the blanket ban WADA sought, referring questions to each sport’s international federations. Of the 387-member Russian team, more than 100 have already been banned, including 67 from the glamour sport of track and field, according to a recent ruling by the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport. Not that cheating is necessarily a communist hallmark. Athletes from capitalist countries do it, too. In the most celebrated Olympic scandal, Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson was disqualified after winning the 100-meter dash at the 1988 Seoul Olympics when he was found to have used the steroid stanozolol. The most celebrated Olympian who was never quite caught was the United States’ Carl Lewis, who won nine Olympic gold medals from 1984 to 1996. In 2003, Lewis acknowledged testing positive three times before the 1988 Olympics. He got off with warnings from U.S. officials, although, under the rules, he should have been prevented from competing in Seoul, where he won gold medals in the 100 meters (after Johnson defaulted) and long jump. After the scandal, Lewis wasn’t exactly contrite. “There were hundreds of people getting off,” Lewis said in 2003. “Everyone was treated the same. … It’s ridiculous. Who cares? I did 18 years of track and field, and I’ve been retired five years, and they’re still talking about me, so I guess I still have it.”
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