The I.O.C. will decide this week whether to reinstate Russia’s federation for Sunday’s closing ceremony and allow the Russian flag to be flown there.
Dr. Rodchenkov, Russia’s former antidoping laboratory chief, is now living in an undisclosed location in the United States and is under the protection of federal authorities. He first unmasked Russia’s doping operation in 2016. His account has since been corroborated by independent investigations for the World Anti-Doping Agency and more recently the I.O.C. His evidence is believed to be relevant to continuing criminal investigations in the United States and abroad.
“This claim has zero chance of surviving a motion to dismiss,” said James Walden, Dr. Rodchenkov’s lawyer. “It is as credible as the rest of Russia’s lies. So I will gladly defend it.”
The three Russians bringing the suit were among 43 athletes penalized for doping in Sochi by a special I.O.C. panel. Evidence against the three women appears to be among the most damning. According to investigators, drug-testing bottles that held their urine had telltale marks of tampering, their urine samples had levels of salt that aren’t explainable through natural means and their names were included on a register of athletes believed to have been provided performance-enhancing substances by Dr. Rodchenkov.
(Nearly 30 Russian athletes successfully appealed their Olympic bans at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which ruled that there was insufficient evidence that they violated doping rules.)
The attorney for the women, Scott Balber, has other Russian clients. In addition to representing Mr. Prokhorov in other matters, Mr. Balber also represents the Russian billionaire Aras Agalarov and his son Emin, who were enlisted to help share what was described as political dirt about Hillary Clinton with Donald J. Trump’s top campaign officials in 2016. The subsequent meeting that took place at Trump Tower between a Russian lawyer and top aides to Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign has been heavily scrutinized by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Mr. Balber also represented Mr. Trump in a 2013 lawsuit against the comedian Bill Maher for likening Mr. Trump to an orangutan. The suit seeking $5 million was dropped about eight weeks after it was filed.
“None of my athletes have ever tested positive, period,” Mr. Balber said in a telephone interview. He said the athletes went through the same secure protocols that were required of everyone. “There are so many demonstrably false statements in what Rodchenkov has put in his affidavits and what he said publicly that it’s essentially a house of cards.”
Most of the Russian athletes banned by the I.O.C. also have never tested positive for banned substances because the “scheme is by nature and purpose elusive,” according to a 45-page document outlining the disciplinary panel’s reasons for finding Ms. Zaytseva guilty.
“The swapping of the samples had precisely the purpose of making direct evidence of an antidoping rule violation disappear (by destroying the true samples),” the document said. “Certain types of direct objective evidence are therefore, and by definition, not available.” The reasoning behind the decisions against Ms. Romanova and Ms. Vilukhina has not been published.
But the I.O.C.’s disciplinary commission in December determined: “Whatever his motivation may be and whichever wrongdoing he may have committed in the past, Dr. Rodchenkov was telling the truth when he provided explanations of the cover-up scheme that he managed.”
Russia’s biathlon program had a doping problem that predated the discovery of the orchestrated scheme, with a spate of athletes from its teams testing positive years earlier.
The former I.O.C. President Jacques Rogge said in 2011 that he was so concerned about the country’s biathlon federation that he urged Russia’s president at the time, Dmitri A. Medvedev, to take stronger action against drug cheats. Mr. Prokhorov has been personally touched by the most recent doping allegations, with Dr. Rodchenkov claiming in a sworn affidavit that Mr. Prokhorov played a role in obscuring the scheme when he led the Russian Biathlon Union.
Mr. Prokhorov has strongly rejected Dr. Rodchenkov’s claims and all doping accusations.
“There are a number of individuals who are providing support for this challenge, both financial and otherwise,” Mr. Balber said about the defamation suit. “Mr. Prohkorov is certainly one of them, but he’s not the only one.”
Mr. Prokhorov, 52, is among several of Russia’s most influential businessmen who back the national Olympic effort. His involvement in the biathlon lawsuit follows a promise he made last year to fight the doping charges.
“If Yana Romanova and Olga Vilukhina decide to fight and defend their honor, I’m ready to provide any legal and financial support,” Mr. Prokhorov told the Russian news agency Tass in November. “We have a positive experience in this field. I am prepared to hire the best lawyers to defend the interests of our biathletes in any country of the world, where it will be most appropriate.”
In a telephone interview from Moscow, Ms. Zaytseva said the case was intended to let the world hear the truth, and that the claims against her and her teammates were made up. “I’m telling you the truth, and I swear on my parents that I’m telling you the truth,” she said. “Why can’t anyone believe me but only believe the person who’s accusing me? That for me is very hard to understand.”
Ms. Zaytseva said she did not understand why her salt levels could be so high, but speculated a diet rich in salted foods like red caviar and salted fish might provide the answer. “But I repeat I’m not a doctor or a chemist, so I don’t really understand these things,” she said, adding that she had never knowingly taken any banned substances.
In September, a Russian court ordered the arrest of Dr. Rodchenkov in absentia. He was accused of “abuse of official powers” which lead to “grave consequences.”
Russian athletes are performing at the Pyeongchang Games as part a neutral team; they are identified only as Olympic Athletes From Russia, and are competing in uniforms and equipment that does not bear the Russian flag. Russia has yet to pay a $15 million fine the I.O.C. demanded in December when it banned a number of athletes, coaches and officials for their roles in the doping conspiracy. The fine must be paid if Russia is to be restored to full membership before the closing ceremony on Sunday.
Like Ms. Zaytseva, Mr. Balber said he could not explain why his clients’ samples appeared to be tainted. “I’m not a doctor, I’m not able to opine on the medical condition, but I do know that the overwhelming majority of statements that he’s made in his affidavits and public statements vis-à-vis my athletes are false,” he said.
Despite being under federal protection, Mr. Rodchenkov has remained in the news media, granting interviews before and during the Winter Games. He said he supported the participation of clean Russian athletes in the Games. The much-depleted team has struggled, failing to win a single gold medal through Monday.