Icarus: Shining A Distorted Light On Performance Enhancing Drugs


“Ignorance is strength.” George Orwell’s ‘1984’ is frequently referenced in 'Icarus', a moving documentary whose central focus changes unexpectedly. Director Bryan Fogel undertakes a science experiment by using performance-enhancing drugs to improve his cycling abilities. After reaching out to a Russian doping expert, Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, Fogel’s film pivots its focus to the state-sponsored cover-up in Russian athletics. The ideas behind ‘1984’ intertwine with the main story as well as other ideas 'Icarus' leaves out of its story.

Dr. Rodchenkov becomes the star of the film as soon as he enters the fray. Depicted as a cheery foreign man, Rodchenkov is merely a simple helper for Fogel’s experiment, advising him of suitable levels of testosterone to achieve maximum growth levels. Suddenly, Rodchenkov is dismissed from his position as director of Russia’s anti-doping laboratory after numerous failed drug tests by Russian Olympians, leaving him in fear of his safety. After fleeing his home country, he reveals the extensive, state-sponsored doping conspiracy, leading to widespread condemnation of Russian athletics.

According to his story, the Russian government supported the use of performance enhancing drugs by athletes in the Olympics, Paralympics and other sports like soccer. When Russia hosted the Winter Olympics in Sochi, they used KGB officers to swap clean urine for tainted samples. Although Rodchenkov was also to blame, he helped uncover the largest athletic cheating scandal in history. He removed the ignorance of Russia’s so-called anti-doping laboratory for what it really was.

'Icarus' also briefly examines the ignorance of the IOC whom allowed illegally enhanced athletes from Russia to compete in the 2016 Olympic Games. The IOC ignored the findings and conclusions of WADA, being willfully ignorant to facts and research, caving to the power and influence of Putin and his supporters. For some reason Russia’s strength forced ignorance from the management involved with decision making. Allowing the Russians to compete in Rio de Janeiro was a denial of facts and allowance of dishonesty to prevail.

When 'Icarus' briefly focuses on the effects of performance-enhancing drugs, it only focuses on the improvements to Fogel’s cycling abilities. As a documentary, it’s disappointing there are no warnings about any negative side-effects on the body.

While a majority of PED use is involved with bodybuilders and athletes, these drugs are readily available to the public. Most notably, testosterone boosters of all shapes and sizes are available for purchase at stores like GNC. They assist in building mass, sculpting, and improving muscle stamina and can be purchased in powder, pill and liquid form. When taken in medically monitored amounts, testosterone can be beneficial and healthy. Unfortunately, the negative side-effects of excessive testosterone can be detrimental.

As a naturally occurring hormone, adding additional testosterone to one’s system can negatively change one’s appearance. Small changes such as acne, skin rash, and nausea can occur with prolonged use. More glaring changes like enlarged breasts, baldness, and changes in liver function can make its side-effects a much bigger issue. Testosterone use can even impact your mood, leading to depression and anxiety in some cases. While improving muscle mass and strength is beneficial, the negative side-effects make its usage less desirable.

When quicker results are desired, anabolic steroids can expedite the muscular growth process. Products like Anadrol and Winstrol are very prevalent in bodybuilders for their quick growth improvements. These types of boosters are effective at rapid muscular growth, improving size and endurance better than any other drug available on the market. Abuse of anabolic steroids will make you look like a bodybuilder, but your body can potentially suffer side-effects much worse than those from testosterone boosters.

Anabolic steroid use can lead to more aggressive versions of the side-effects of testosterone. According to WebMD, abuse of steroids can lead to heart disease, liver disease, and stroke. Steroids can also lead to improper bone growth in younger users and, when removed, can cause severe withdrawal symptoms for weeks or months. While not as addictive as street drugs, steroid abuse carries many of the same risks and negative side-effects.

'Icarus' paints a worrisome portrait of the lengths certain individuals will go to achieve success. Dr. Rodchenkov aided these individuals but was able to share his story with the world. He helped uncover a conspiracy approved by the leader of a world power. Unfortunately, the film focuses too much on Rodchenkov’s story, instead of teaching viewers the damage PED abuse can cause. Steroids can shorten one’s life, causing irreparable damage to vital organs and confusing one’s hormones and neurotransmitters. Documentaries should uncover important stories while also informing viewers. 'Icarus' told a compelling story about PED use; however, it failed to share the many pitfalls steroid use can have on its users. It is essential that a film about removing ignorance doesn’t contribute ignorance to the topic of its film.