Russian Training: Part IV*

Russian Training Part IV*

An unfortunate sign of the times, articles such as this and especially competition reports, in the future will have to be affixed with an asterisk. The all too obvious reason being the results of today’s competitions can only be based on current technological advances in testing for performance enhancing substances. The current state of chaos in international weightlifting is a direct outcome of improvements in software, testing methodology and gaping loopholes in the testing protocols employed over the past 8 – 10 years.

Software/machines can now decide if someone used banned substances based on minute traces even if usage were ceased 4 – 6 months before testing.

At the present time the list of positives from the re -analysis of 2008 and 2012 Olympics has reached 48. Twenty – nine medals will have to be returned and reallocated to the lifters who placed lower in the standings.

The list provided in part III, now so depressingly long, if there is no end in sight to new discoveries; the list itself would comprise an article in and of itself.

Of the 48 positives (25 were from Beijing and 23 from London respectively), 58% are females; all the more distressing for weightlifting sport. Of those 28, 25 were from East European countries; and, 22 of the 25 or 88%, were from countries which were formerly part of the USSR. Two lifters were positive even though they zeroed in the events along with three who placed ninth and two who finished 11th which is indicative of the extent of testing of random selections.

Five (5) athletes were positive in both Olympics; three of which were female. Consequently, the total number of individual athletes with failed tests is 43.

The total distribution of athletes with positive results whom represented countries once part of the USSR was 88%. If the 24 positives from Houston in 2015 are included that figure is 85% (61) of all failed tests were from the old USSR.

Since the number of athletes positive on re – tests has risen but the distribution by country and gender has remained pretty much the same, the conclusions drawn in part III are still applicable. The addition of the three Chinese female champions from Beijing is the exception.

The fact that their three positives test were for GHRP – 2 is noteworthy; because, according to the technology of approximately 2007 the detection window for that substance was only about 24 hours. Consequently, unless this stuff was administered right up to the competition it would have been undetectable at that time.  However,  the latest, more sophisticated protocols follow the presence what are called markers and factors resulting from usage. They are far more definitive.

Also, it interesting to note this substance is more associated with healing injury than the anabolic effect of male hormone derivatives; hence its popularity in professional American football.

Another curious circumstance from all this re – testing is the dearth of Asian females and males, especially Chinese males from the list of 48.   This is all the more interesting since administration of male hormone derivatives such as the most popular agent Dehydrochloromethytestosterone (oral Turinabol) was by far the most popular method of performance enhancement.

Based on the safe assumption there are no new drugs and the dearth of Asian positives, especially for male hormone derivatives, it is reasonable to assume their results are within the realm of possibility without these substances. China alone has a population of 1.4 billion to draw from. And more to the point, today’s records are still way behind (especially the male clean and jerk) records of 1988.

For instance, even if the 214 clean and jerk world record at 77 kg made in Rio is to be written with an asterisk; it is necessary to put it into perspective. The old record of 210 set in 2001 was 5.5 kg less than the 75 kg record of 215.5 kg set in 1987. In the 15 – year interim since the 210 kg record was established, there has been at least 16 (by nine different lifters) failed attempts to either equal or break this record. Of these sixteen missed attempts; eleven (11) missed the jerk from the chest. This is confirmation of conclusions drawn in 2012 ( Charniga, A De-masculinization of Strength, 2012) concerning the male weightlifter’s difficulty to jerk the barbell after a reasonably successful clean, under the post 1988 testing protocols, i.e., without elevated levels of serum testosterone at the time of competition.


 Two members of the club of nine 77 kg lifters who cleaned the 211 kg easily only to fail to jerk it. Charniga photos. 

As the saying goes, figures don’t lie. Consequently, it is an unfortunate circumstance, that it is those who invented modern weightlifting sport, the Russians; who created the modern science of weightlifting, are the ones who are living in the past. They should be the ones leading the way to devise new methods of training not dependent of banned substances; instead, an embarrassment to the sport.

The McLaren report

An investigation of Russian anti – doping activities commissioned by the World Anti – Doping Agency (WADA) by Montreal Lawyer Richard H. McLaren which included the testimony and evidence provided by the former chief of the Moscow Anti – doping laboratory Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, lead to the eventual banning of the entire Russian weightlifting team from the Rio Olympics.

Rodchenkov a classic fox in the hen house, was responsible for determining the results of in and out – of – competition testing performed by the Russian Anti – doping Agency (RUSADA). He devised a scheme to clean up positive tests called the “disappearing positive methodology”.

In direct violation of the WADA protocols Rodchenkov cleaned up positive samples of Russian athletes by having federal security agents remove lids of the ‘B’ positive samples with a method undetectable to the naked eye. Clean urine from the same athlete was substituted including the possible addition of salt or creatinine so that the ‘clean’ sample would have the same specific gravity as would have been determined at the time the original samples were taken.

Consequently, the ‘cleaned’ samples were assured to have come from the athlete in question in the event DNA testing was done to double check that the sample came from a given athlete; as well as having the same specific gravity of the original sample.

Moreover, with his intricate knowledge of the testing protocols Rodchenkov devised a special cocktail of drugs consisting of Oral turinabol, Oxandraolone, Methasterone and Drostanelone. He had decided the current state (around 2010) of knowledge of substances administration was out of date. These substances would be dissolved in alcohol and swished in the mouth so that they could be absorbed through the buccal membranes which would also significantly reduce the detection window to 4-5 days.

A panic memo Rodchenkov sent to the Russian Olympic committee (presented in the report) warned that if the samples of Russian athletes from Beijing and London were re – analyzed with the latest methods the result would be disastrous. The detection window was had been thrown wide open to 4 – 6 months.  For instance:

“Athletics was always on doping program. In the USSR it was simply that way, it was control and discipline, scientific development and exchange of experience. …Of particular danger are those samples of urine and blood stored up in the basement storage laboratory at the Univeristy of Lausanne. If you now re – analyzed with the help of new instruments Beijing samples – it will be a disaster. For example, from 1990 – 2000 previously Oral Turinabol could only be determined within 5-7 days use; in 2015, the new sensitive instruments can determine 4-6 months.” {McLaren report}

Confirmation of this assessment can be seen in the list of athletes positive in the re – analysis of Beijing and London: Dehydrochloromethytestosterone (Oral Turinabol) Oxandrolone and Drostanelone produced most of the positives. Those whom did not have access to the state of the art anti – detection methods of the day used an old drug Stanozolol.

The revelations surrounding this “disappearing positives” methodology was the final straw to ban the entire team from Rio. Initially, only those Russian lifters headed for Rio who had a previous doping positive were declared ineligible.

However, part of Rodchenkov’s evidence was a document with a table naming some 46 Russian athletes from different sports headed for London.

“The chart showed that the laboratory detected extremely high levels of prohibited substances. With one exception every positive result was reported as negative findings on the (Anti Doping Administration Management System)  ADAMS.” {McLaren report}

Since there were four additional weightlifters’ names on this list still not revealed to the public, it was decided that was sufficient cause to ban the whole team. From this chart and the resulting ban at least two circumstances should be obvious.

/ the athletes were well aware of the “disappearing positives” method because of the “extremely high levels” indicated in the chart. Since their urine could be ‘cleaned’ why not go all out and take as much as you want.

/ the lab chief Rodchenkov used a rating system designation of red, green and yellow to indicate if an athlete must be pulled from the competition (red), is good to go (green) and yellow meant there are still traces of banned substances, but the athlete can clean out in time for the competition. This would explain why the Russians pulled their two 105 kg entries in London, losing any possibility of a medal in this class, even though they had another 105 in camp, training up to the games.

Various sources confirm what logical assumptions made in Parts II and III that once the chemicals entered training halls the Russian tradition of innovations in the science of sport training took a back seat; and, that most everyone in the former Soviet Union followed along same path. This of course is confirmed by gross disproportion of positives sample from the former USSR.

“Decades of using drugs as a “shortcut” to international sports success mean that sports science in ex-Soviet countries has been neglected and coaches rely on outdated knowledge, says Iljukov” (AP report)

Putting the situation into context

The WADA mandate to police doping in Olympic sports across two hundred countries of course is an impossible task. Tracking athletes in former communist or current communist countries where testing athletes locally has to either rely on sometimes questionable government agencies, RUSADA for example; is unreliable, and /or prohibitively expensive. Further complicating the issue are places where special visas are required for testers to enter the country, delaying entry, creating the possibility coaches and athletes can be tipped off in advance to avoid testing, and so forth.

However, compared to the impossible task of the WADA mandate; testing is farce for big time professional sports like American football which does not use an independent body such as the US anti – doping agency and for years did not even prohibit the use of powerful hormone derivatives.

For instance, the recent high profile accusation that a prominent NFL quarterback had used HGH was ultimately dismissed after the league conducted interviews. No mention that the player’s head looks like something that had been growing in a watermelon patch. Locating the athletes, especially during pre – season conditioning and in season is no problem compared to conducting testing in more than 200 countries.

That being said, a sophisticated supplementary system is needed, especially for sports like weightlifting where unusual spikes in results have conspicuously coincided with absence of testing (see Part III). These situations raise a red flag which need appropriate attention from the governing body.

For example, lifter ‘A’ increases his bodyweight from 124.30 kg to 148.20 kg as his total rises from 345 kg to 412 kg over a period of three years. In year four he makes total of 415 kg at a bodyweight of 154.50 , is found to be positive and receives a two – year kgsuspension.

Mysteriously disappearing from the list of tested competitors for two years while on suspension, the athlete returns to make a total of 454 kg at 155.12 kg bodyweight, i.e., his rate of improvement jumped from 2.8 kg of increase in total per additional 1 kg bodyweight to 5.3 kg per kilo of additional bodyweight over the two –  year span of the suspension.

The same athlete then improves at a rate of 19 kg of total per additional 1 kg of bodyweight to win the Olympics. Clearly this athlete fell through a huge crack in the current testing system. To state what should be obvious, discrete improvement in results in the absence of increased body mass; this after four – six years of training is outside any reasonable norm.

A tracking system where a list of say 100 – 150 prospective international competitors from all affiliated federations can be submitted (and regularly updated) to the governing body in order to develop a data base. Essentially the data would consist of not only the current results of prospective Olympians; but rates of improvement. Athletes who show unusual spikes (as per our example) relative to reasonable expectations; can be singled out for special scrutiny. Hopefully, methods like this could help eliminate the unsettling prospects of finding out something was amiss the hard way; eight years down the road.

More about ‘Doper Clinics’

The problem of doping in weightlifting, if left unchecked will be the death knell for this sport if we are axed from the Olympic program. Part of the problem in need of a solution are the ‘Doper Clinics’ popular with exercise emporiums for whom weightlifting is only part of the program for their classes and groups to ‘all get tired together’.

These clubs are not the only ones hosting these clinics as many weightlifting clubs sponsor them as well. Consequently, many seize upon the ‘knowledge’ of how to lift and train as the latest because it comes from former lifting champions. The impact of these clinics in spreading out of date and just plain flawed ideas about training and technique can be significant, thanks to internet videos from sites such as Youtube.

The methods, exercises and especially the techniques which are part of these clinics featuring Russians bloated with drugs are not applicable to modern training for weightlifting competitions. All the more so now than ever.

For instance, technique and training are essentially one and the same thing.  In various videos of seminars of the ‘doper clinic’ type  lifters are shown to keep their shoulders in front of the vertical line of the bar as it passes the knees in the snatch and to maintain a significant “covering” until the bar reaches pelvis height.


Figure 1. Example of keeping the shoulders in front of the bar. Charniga photos

Then the lifter is to brush the bar on the lower pubis to perform the explosion. The instructor says this is the strongest position. And, more importantly, if your shoulders recede backwards this is a mistake and it is because your back is weak, i.e., “your back cannot cover the bar because it is weak.”

These instructions should come with a warning: “don’t try this at home kids without drugs”.

This element of technique of accentuating shoulders in front of bar for both snatch and clean places an unjustifiable strain on the lumbar spine, the body’s weak link and the most common site for weightlifting injury. Performing special exercises to strength the back for this questionable action is not the answer.

There are elite lifters who not only do not do this; but more to the point, achieve record results without becoming a member of the list of shame. Furthermore, this element of a “Russian pull” technique subordinates the muscles of the ankle and usually forces the lifter to jump forward.

Time and space do not permit exploration the too many ramifications of teaching wrong ideas; but as an example consider the following. The jerk from the chest is the most difficult skill in weightlifting, especially when the barbell approaches 200% of bodyweight. At the 2015 American National championships, the 58 lifters who comprised the 77 and 85 kg class collectively, were able to realize six successful third attempt clean and jerk lifts in that competition. That is a colossal failure rate of 90%.

This doesn’t say much for the teachings of bloated Russians demonstrating push presses, push jerks and the like with big weights to help the jerk; and, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on coaching certifications and clinics offered by the USA weightlifting federation.

The only lesson from the current dismal circumstances is to find the solution by first rejecting the problem. Don’t support ‘doper clinics’.


/ Charniga, A., “Russian Training” parts 1- 3


/ “Doping in ex-Soviet nations echoes Russia’s Problems” AP