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Title: Icarus in white and yellow on a red back drop

Icarus (2017)

January 18, 2021 Logo Netflix Logo Tmdb Logo IMDb Logo Rotten Tomatoes Logo Metacritic Logo

Myth and reality are on a crash course in this 2017 documentary that begins as an exposé on the doping culture of professional, competitive cycling but morphs into a commentary on the cost of being a whistleblower.

Cycling enthusiast, Bryan Fogel, began his adventure in doping in 2014, following the Lance Armstrong scandal, to test the system and investigate the loopholes that allow space for athletes to use banned substances to enhance their performances. As Fogel connected with scientist and medical professionals he began to see how those who were supposed to be working against doping efforts were actually enabling doping in competitive sports.

Man wearing an oxygen mask on in a medical lab
Image Courtesy of TMDb

Fogel’s documentary turns an unforeseen corner when he is introduced to Russian anti-doping lab specialist, Grigory Rodchenkov. Initially, Fogel contacted Rodchenkov for advice on his doping regimen and assistance in beating the anti-doping tests during competitions. A bond was formed, almost immediately, between the amateur athlete and the charismatic scientist. Neither had an inkling at the beginning that this friendship would become a partnership in survival.

Within months of beginning filming, Rodchenkov found himself neck deep in the Russian doping scandal. At first he displayed a lot of bravado but in short order he was asked to resign from his position as lead scientist at a government run lab. When a colleague mysteriously dies days later, Rodchenkov turns to his American friend, Fogel, to flee Russia.

What unfolds over the following two years is a global investigation involving multiple countries, several governing bodies of global sports, countless international press outlets and numerous law agencies. In the end, the case, and the documentary, focuses on whistleblowers and the price they pay for eventually speaking the truth to whoever will listen.

Animated image of the silhouette of a man running, his shadow looks like the Russian hammer and sickle
Image Courtesy of TMDb

Icarus won multiple awards upon its release, including the prestigious Orwell Award at the Sundance Film Festival. At the 90th Academy Awards, Fogel publicly honoured Grigory Rodchenkov and his bravery during his acceptance speech. this sentiment echoed the final image of the film’s credits when Fogel recognized the difficult and dangerous journey of all whistleblowers.

Icarus is one of the most intriguing documentaries I have seen in a while. The story of the doping scandal is interesting in and of itself, but the element of following the path of the whistleblower from before the scandal broke is fascinating. Take the time to catch this flick while it is available exclusively on Netflix.

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