All these years, all that bureaucracy, all those test tubes, and yet the sport of track and field has run backward in time, back to the bad old days when systemic doping made some competitions into adjunct skirmishes in the Cold War. Back to the oldest, quickest way to get from point A to point B, which layers payoffs and cover-ups over talent and training.
The World Anti-Doping Agency formed its Independent Commission, chaired by WADA's first president, Richard Pound, almost a year ago in response to a damning documentary by journalist Hajo Seppelt and the German ARD network that exposed rampant corruption in Russian athletics. Numerous signs in the weeks leading up to Monday's release of the panel's report pointed to findings that would implicate Russian sports officials, athletes and an anti-doping infrastructure that existed in name only.
Who could have predicted the term "state-sponsored" would be trending in the doping lexicon again 26 years after the first chisels hit the Berlin Wall? Who imagined 1,400 samples destroyed by a national laboratory director, or Russian secret agents lurking to intimidate employees in the lab set up within the secure perimeter of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi? Who pictured a dummy lab in Moscow that pre-screened samples and helpfully forwarded clean ones on to the accredited facility?
The script would have been suitable for a spy thriller, except that there were non-fictional consequences. Some forever-unknown number of honest competitors were robbed; some unknowable number of dirty performances will stand. Russian athletes feared for their livelihoods and even their well-being if they didn't go along with the system.
Those dramatic revelations took center stage Monday. The report also included line items on plenty of time-honored evasive tactics: Advance notice of tests, missed whereabouts reporting, flawed lab techniques, bribery of doping control officers, swapping dirty samples for clean -- the whole menu was on display.
Yet much still remains redacted. The WADA report carefully and appropriately slalomed around areas still (or soon to be) under investigation by various law enforcement entities, including a French inquiry into bribery and corruption at the highest levels of the International Association of Athletics Federations, track and field's governing body. The samples that were dumped were not just from track. That -- in conjunction with the recent peeling of the financial onion in international soccer -- should widen the lens to focus on far more than this nation, far more than one sport.
Any serious follower of Olympic sports has long intuited that today's doping dynamics might be fueled by something greater than roving bands of rogue athletes, coaches and gym rats. A sense of greater conspiracy was all around, like keywords floating in a data cloud, omnipresent but un-graspable. It took Seppelt's groundbreaking reporting and the bravery of the whistleblowers who confided in him to make it tangible.
The money flowing from the highest bidders for the biggest events has been at flood stage for a long time now. The rising tide has lifted some vessels and engulfed others. There is lavish living at the top administrative level of what is persistently labeled the Olympic "movement," while some elite athletes are encouraged to crowdfund.
National and international sport federations that make the rules are often referred to as "governing bodies." Athletes in Olympic sports - who, transient, far-flung and hampered by cultural differences, have never mounted a meaningful labor movement -- are not getting the government they deserve.
Pound said the investigative findings were darker than he anticipated, and he is hardly a naïf. It is tougher yet for athletes who color between the lines. They have to contend with guilt by association, with the public's justified cynicism and potential apathy.
Athletes have enough angst wondering what's going on in the next lane, much less competing against a shadow relay team of political appointees and other enablers stacked behind the start line. It's enough of a mental drain to speculate that a near-miss finish might alchemize into a medal awarded years later in a muted private ceremony far from the packed and spotlit stadium.
The WADA commission recommended life bans for several Russian athletes, including two of the top three runners in the women's 800-meter race at the 2012 London Olympics. U.S. veteran Alysia Montaño finished fifth in that event and would be installed on the paper version of the podium should those sanctions materialize. On the phone Monday, Montano was silent for 10 full seconds when asked about the irretrievability of a moment on the medal stand. "There's no way" to get it back, she said, stifling a sob.
"I want for those dirty athletes to recognize that emotion you actually get when you improve, you see yourself, look at yourself in the mirror and know that you've done everything you could in an ethical and true manner and that's what motivates you to keep going," Montano said.
Montano has moved through laps of sadness and anger in the three years since London, but ultimately, with the discipline characteristic of elite athletes, she learned to put it aside. "I'd be a hot mess if I held onto that," she said. But descriptions of Russian government complicity re-pierced her. "If it wasn't those three [Russian 800-meter finalists], would it have been the next line of them?" Montano said. "It's very difficult to know that it wasn't just one person's decision -- it was many, to say the least."
Pound's panel recommended that the Russian track and field federation be suspended from competition. The international federation will consider that, according to new IAAF chief Sebastian Coe. But the IAAF is itself terribly compromised. Its past leadership is under criminal investigation and Coe has been the subject of scrutiny for his historic support of the former regime. The same kind of ruthlessness that allowed corruption to propagate will have to be exercised to kill it off. It's hard to contemplate anyone who came up through the system capable of that.
It appears possible that Russian athletes will not compete in track and field in Rio next summer, and there's a cogent argument to be made that a tarp should be thrown over the entire sports establishment there for a while. Every event they enter could be besmirched. If a Russian wins, the victory will not be believed; if a Russian loses, how can the winning athlete be trusted?
Top U.S. marathoner Desiree Linden said she hesitates to indict an entire country. She has trained in Kenya and, despite that country's well-documented doping issues, she does not believe all Kenyan runners are suspect, or that morality is a function of nationality.
"But this feeling is different," she told ESPN.com of the WADA conclusions and recommendations. "There's enough evidence."
Linden, like Montano, compartmentalizes suspicions that would do nothing but sap energy over 26.2 miles. The extent of the WADA findings, and how her path and others may have been narrowed by them, is something she's still absorbing.
"I never got into sport to be famous or make a lot of money -- it's always been the idea of you versus you," Linden said. "I have my heroes who have set the bar for me. But when you're in your 30s and you're putting off another career, it's a business. If you're not making a living, it's super-frustrating. You just have to put your head down and give your best."
The Soviet Union fell a quarter-century ago. Monday's report demonstrated that some of its former athletic DNA remains intact. Doping, the durable cockroach of sports, can thwart even the most well-meaning of housekeepers and will outlive us all. That reality should keep any nation or organization from being too arrogant.