"Vigilante Race Walker" sounds like a great premise for a comedy sketch, but for Canadian Pan Am Games gold medallist Evan Dunfee, it's a way of life.
The New York Times used the 'V' word to describe Dunfee, who hails from Richmond, B.C., earlier this year, chronicling his role in a social media campaign aimed at cheating Russian race walkers, and notorious coach Viktor Chegin.
Standing up for clean sport
"This is the way we have decided to stand up for clean sport," Dunfee said, speaking from the Canadian team training camp in Korea — although he's admittedly not entirely comfortable with his new "vigilante" label.
Last year Dunfee and a number of like minded walkers launched the Twitter hashtag #banchegin, hoping to bring attention to a scandal that, although stunning in scope, has gone mostly unnoticed outside of track circles.
In July, six Chegin athletes returned positive drug tests, bringing the total number of Chegin-trained race walkers implicated in doping infractions to 31.
Imagine for a moment Mike Babcock's entire Olympic squad, plus all the subs and cuts, testing positive for performance enhancing drugs.
Babcock would never again step foot in a Canadian hockey rink because in most realms, 31 black marks against a program is plenty to conclude something rotten and pervasive is at play, and the person in charge might need to answer for it.
But not in Russian race walking.
Over the years, as the number of doping violations clicked ever higher, Chegin continued to run Russia's race walk program at the Centre of Olympic training in Saransk, about 500 kilometres east of Moscow.
Race walking has 'Chegin problem'
Doping scandals are nothing new in track, says Dunfee, but, "race walk doesn't have a doping problem, rather, a Chegin problem."
And the Chegin problem goes well beyond performance enhancing drugs.
Earlier this year Dunfee's blog painstakingly laid out evidence gathered on social media proving that Chegin athlete and 2012 Olympic champion Elena Lashmanova was still racing — despite being under a two-year ban after testing positive for an experimental blood boosting drug in Jan. 2014.
The Saransk Centre responded by launching a coverup, posting a series of ham-handed, and as Dunfee's blog points out, laughable staged photos.
Lashmanova could see her ban extended past the Rio Olympics as a result.
Another win for the "Vigilante Race Walker", although Dunfee fears he himself may become a target. He's already decided to skip next year's World Cup in Russia.
"It doesn't keep me awake at night," he says. "There's probably that 0.01 per cent chance that they could do something."
"There's easy things like drug test me there, and replace my sample with somebody else's. It's just not worth it."
Dunfee is set race the 20 kilometre distance Sunday at the World Championships in Beijing, where he's aiming to finish in the top eight.
When the provisional start list for that race was released, it included three Chegin athletes, although word now is that the trio has withdrawn.
"They're on the start list but we've been told they're not actually racing," said Dunfee.
There's also conflicting reports that Viktor Chegin has retired, or been banned, or been fired (again).
Regardless, Dunfee and friends have come to Beijing prepared, taking their campaign offline and onto the track with newly printed #banchegin T-shirts. Whether they'll need them remains to be seen.
"It's like, 'Damn, we did too good a job and might not need these shirts any more,'" he laughed. "We'll have to see. If those guys show up we'll definitely be wearing them."