Russia is allowing its athletes to use a performance-enhancing drug called xenon.
According to a recent German TV news report, top Russian athletes have used xenon gas from the 2004 Olympics to the recent Sochi Winter Games.
Xenon stimulates the hormone Erythropoietin (EPO), which encourages the creation of red blood cells inside the body to improve an athlete’s performance.
Injecting EPO directly into the body is considered doping in many sports, including the Tour de France. Disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong admitted to Oprah Winfrey in 2013 that he used EPO, reported Slate.com.
Russian authorities are claiming their athletes don't dope with EPO, but are allowed to use xenon, which causes the body to create EPO unnaturally.
“Xenon is not an illegal gas,” Vladimir Uiba, head of Russia’s Federal Biomedical Agency (FMBA), told Russian news sources, notes AFP. “We have a principle not to use what is forbidden by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).”
“It is possible that our sportsmen have been using xenon inhalators, but there is nothing wrong with that,” admitted Uiba. “We use what is not illegal, is not destructive and does not have side effects.”
However, the claim of no "side effects" is clearly debunked by Russian documents.
According to The Economist, a Russian government document from 2010 actually instructs athletes how to use xenon and described the side effects, which last for 48-72 hours.
Russia's State Research Institute of the Ministry of Defense advised using xenon before athletic events to fix any fatigue or sleep disruption, and after an event to improve physical recovery.
The Russian government recommends a 50:50 mixture of xenon and oxygen before going to bed. Xenon is also recommended as a quick hit an hour before an event.
Russia racked up 13 gold medals and won the most medals at the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach recently bragged that only six athletes at the Sochi Olympics got caught doping.
According to the Associated Press, one was Austrian cross-country skier Johannes Duerr who admitted to using EPO after he tested positive in Austria while training.
However, if he had used xenon to stimulate his body to produce EPO as the Russians apparently do, he would have been allowed to compete.
Sources: Associated Press, The Economist, AFP, Slate.com