Opinion: The case of Lance Armstrong: An internal debate

On October 14, 2003, I woke up early in the morning and did not go to school.

While this unto itself was cause for great rejoicing (I was 10), the reason made it all the more special: I was going to New York City to meet my hero, Lance Armstrong, live and in person, where he would sign his outrageously expensive new autobiography (since the old one apparently became obsolete kind of fast) for me.

Apparently, a lot of other people had the same idea that day, because my dad and I (after purchasing three copies of Every Second Counts) waited on line for four hours that morning–and only because we got there early. Lance was one of those rare athletes who could make hundreds, probably thousands of people forsake their daily lives and stretch en masse for blocks on end, prompting even the most distracted and hurried New Yorker to momentarily slow down and ask, “Wait, is something going on?” before proceeding without waiting for an answer (OK, so not everyone was obsessed with Lance. But come on, it’s New York).

And when my moment came, it was, well, just that: a (very brief) moment. I think I blurted something along the lines of, “I’ve been waiting all my life to meet you, Lance,” or something similarly trite and stupid (need I repeat that I was 10?). He responded with the equally lame, “Well, now you have,” or something to that effect, though I could hardly blame him because there was no way I was the first overzealous 10-year-old who worshipped him that he had met that day, and this was probably not his idea of fun anyway.

All fair enough. And then, as we made to leave the table, he said (I don’t even remember if he looked up or not, it doesn’t really matter), “Keep the pen,” and promptly handed me a suddenly holy (and, I later discovered, still perfectly functional) black Sharpie as my dad and I were escorted away from the staging area, where, as an added bonus, we met legendary cycling photographer Graham Watson and chatted with him for a slightly less supervised moment or two.

But it was the marker that mattered most to me. For years, I stored it safely in a clearly-labeled plastic bag, lest it be confused with the other similar-looking yet vastly inferior markers that populated my household. I removed it only occasionally for important purposes (read: when I couldn’t find any other Sharpies), and always treated it with a sense of awe and reverence. It’s probably still in one of the many shoeboxes full of stuff that populate the disaster area I call a closet back home, just waiting to be rediscovered and admired once more.

By this point, if you’re still with me (and my sincere thanks if you are), you’re probably wondering: who cares? What is the point of all this? We get it, Elliot, you really loved Lance Armstrong.

But that, of course, is exactly the point: I really loved Lance Armstrong. I watched him ride the Tour de France every day for three weeks in July as he demolished the field with only the occasional struggle (see: 2003). I read both of his books more times than I could count. I convinced my parents to buy about 20 of those ubiquitous Livestrong bracelets that the whole world seemed to wear for a while.

I also tried to follow in his footsteps: I joined the cycling team upon arrival at college and raced competitively for the first time this past spring. While my dad deserves the vast majority of the credit for this (for providing everything from an example to encouragement to the bike I currently ride), I still credit Lance with a sizeable assist for igniting within me a desire to go up hills really fast.

(You’ll notice, by the way, that I refer to him as “Lance” and not “Armstrong.” Rest assured that this is not due to some imagined familiarity based on our brief encounter, but simply force of habit and yet another reflection of my fandom.)

And so when the first drug allegations surfaced, I scoffed. Show me the evidence, Lance said. I chimed in right along with him. The reasoning was sound: Why would a man who had heroically fought cancer so advanced that it should have killed him willingly endanger his health by taking a drug that could kill him in his sleep?

It just didn’t make any sense. And besides, all the tests came back clean.

So I scoffed when LA Confidentiel, a lurid account supposedly detailing Armstrong’s systematic drug use, was released (and later discredited when Lance sued for libel and won). I shrugged when he was associated with Dr. Michele Ferrari, a controversial doctor who was found guilty of malpractice in 2004 for prescribing illegal drugs to the riders he coached. And I chuckled when Lance furiously set out to make another one of Ferrari’s clients, Filippo Simeoni, look foolish at the 2004 Tour after the two took potshots at each other in the media.

But as time went on, the accusations became harder and harder to deflect. All around Lance, teammates and rivals were being lassoed left and right. Floyd Landis admitted to using testosterone. Tyler Hamilton admitted to doing blood transfusions on 60 Minutes after spending years attributing his positive tests to a “vanishing twin.” In 2006, Spanish police executed Operación Puerto, a vast undertaking that ultimately led to suspensions for Jan Ullrich, Ivan Basso, and Alejandro Valverde, all men who had challenged Lance only to be soundly defeated.

All these revelations raised one big question that few people, least of all me, wanted to know the answer to: How could Lance stay clean and win when the riders finishing second and third and so many of the riders helping him all ultimately were exposed as cheaters?

Among those who did want to know the answer were federal prosecutors, who investigated Lance for two years for a whole host of possible doping-related crimes, which according to the New York Times included “defrauding of the government, drug trafficking, money laundering and conspiracy involving Armstrong and other top cyclists,” that were supposedly committed while Lance was sponsored by the United States Postal Service, a government agency. Things were getting serious.

But after two years of searching, the prosecutors closed the case. Once again, Lance seemed to have been vindicated. That, it appeared, was (finally) that.

Just a few weeks ago, however, the United States Anti-Doping Agnecy (USADA) announced that it was leveling fresh charges against the rider it has long had an antagonistic relationship with. The allegations and accusations are among the most sweeping Lance has ever faced, as the USADA claims to have secured evidence that Lance used a whole host of doping techniques over a period ranging from 1996-2010, with over 10 former cyclists set to testify against him.

Lance, as always, has issued a blanket denial.

And me? I no longer know what to think.

What discourages me most about this recent turn of events is that, now more than ever, both sides of the argument have a whole lot of people saying fundamentally contradicting things that cannot both be true. On one of the sides in this case, a whole lot of people are telling a really big and complicated lie.

At this point, though, I’m not sure that we’ll ever find out which side that is. If his accusers are found to be lying, they’ll merely claim that he’s a bully who’s exceptionally good at hiding things. If Lance is found to be lying, it’s not exactly as if he’ll suddenly reverse course and call a press conference to say it was him all along. As far as learning the whole truth and nothing but the truth goes, the ultimate verdict of this new inquiry will tell us nothing.

When I started writing this article, about 10 days and 1300 words ago, I planned to finish by saying that this accusation was one too many for me to shrug off, and that I too was now convinced of Lance’s guilt. But the more I’ve thought and written and revised and re-written about the subject, the less sure I am. Many of the men testifying against him are former dopers themselves, which makes their credibility suspect at best. The USADA’s witness recruitment tactics are shaky. Most importantly, the fact remains that Lance has passed hundreds and hundreds of drug tests before where so many others have failed. Surely that counts for something?

I just don’t know. Like so many other fans, I want desperately for none of this to be true. The 10-year-old in me yearns for the days of simple idealization, when a book signing would mean a missed day of school for me and a carelessly-given Sharpie would mean the world to me. I miss those days. But no matter how this investigation is resolved, they’re never coming back.

Thus, I must respectfully yield the floor to the realist in me, who would like to reiterate one basic aphorism: innocent until proven guilty. Of course, only Lance himself will ever know for certain the true extent of his innocence or his guilt. But in the eyes of the law, the eyes of the agency, and therefore in the eyes of the realist in me as well, he remains not guilty.

So I’m not getting rid of the overpriced books or the Sharpie just yet. Maybe there’s only a chance in a million that he’s completely innocent, but at least there’s a chance. And for both the star-struck 10-year-old and the realist in me, that’s enough for now.

  • Bob M

    The enitre situation is sad. I love Lance Armstrong. I don’t know if he did or he didn’t. I suspect he did. Fact remains, to win the Tour de France takes great strategy, timing and brilliance. He did it seven times. Amazing.

  • franz

    Ya can’t just push wins aside, they’re integral to the story… but he put a lot of folks on bikes, outdoors and created a cancer foundation second to none. The moral issue of the means to the end will always haunt, real evidence itself could easily take a back seat for many in the ‘even playing field’ camp. The good he did will never be forgotten by those who benefited. The whichhunt to convict him of something seems more like a political vendetta at this late point simply because he got away with it … or he didn’t. The more there is pressure to prove something- the more subjective the ” truth” becomes. My belief is that they will convict him if they want to badly enough. There is a fair argument the 7 win feat itself will never be duplicated with out drugs and therefore it should at least be carried with a Bonds-like asterisk in the record books. But what do you do without proof? Maybe you can’t forgive him for cheating … if he did, but you also can’t convict him for his use of that pulpit to help a lot of folks in serious need. I am not necessarily a ‘means justify the ends” thinker, but In the end conviction or not, I’d keep the sharpie, he did some good where he was.

  • Shelley Conti

    Loved your article and your writing. Keep them coming.

    • http://www.facebook.com/elliot.chester Elliot Chester

      Thanks Shelley!

  • Ianfra

    If you talk to people within the cycling community there are a great majority who believe that Armstrong doped. Certainly he was winning in an era when most of his major competitors were later to be found dopers. In my 52 years experience of cycle racing, I can put my hand on my heart and say it was simply not possible for Lance to dominate his doped peers in the way he did without using that same dope himself. It is sad to say this but to me it is an undeniable …….

    • http://www.facebook.com/elliot.chester Elliot Chester

      That is probably the most damning circumstantial evidence, I agree. Although Lance’s side would probably argue that he made up the gap through genetic advantages, better training, and a superior will to win. This article discusses the first two scenarios: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/07/0722_050722_armstrong.html

      Not saying I agree with this; personally, I find the reasoning rather far-fetched, though not entirely implausible. Just trying to examine both sides fairly.

      • Roger

        Elliot, I just read the nationalgeographic article again. I first read it back in 2005 and saw the video – the science of Lance Armstrong. I was struck by how differently it reads today.
        First, the authors first reference Dr. Coyle (from Austin, Tx) that Lance’s max heartrate is over 200bpm and his VO2 max is extremely high. Yet, the article then says “But other elite athletes have similarly powerful hearts and lungs.”. So, the article essentially starts off by saying Lance has average heart strength and VO2 max compared to other elite cyclists. The authors then propose perhaps it’s superior training. They cite his high muscle efficiency, but don’t compare this efficiency to other elite cyclists. Similarly, they cite his low lactate accumulation, but don’t compare it to other world-class elite cyclists. They then state how he lost weight after cancer – yet that doesn’t give him a physical advantage. I highly doubt the cancer and aggressive chemotherapy strengthened his body. Yes, he lost weight, but there are many similarly weighted elite cyclists. The authors state the cancer recovery made him stronger mentally, which I can believe. I can see someone going through that excruciating pain and suffering and come out mentally tougher. When I was younger I trained for, and completed, and IronMan triathlon. It involved many hours being extremely uncomfortable – extreme hot, cold, severe cramps, mental fatigue, physical exhaustion, hunger – you name it. For years after that, my uncomfortable threshold was significantly raised. People would complain about it being too hot, cold, hungry, tired – it didn’t bother me at all. Compared to what I went through, these regular daily fluctuations where very minor on the uncomfort scale. So, I could see how battling cancer and cancer therapy could have significantly raised Lance’s “uncomfort” scale.
        Overall, the article dismisses the stronger heart and VO2 max theory. They also don’t offer comparisons for lactate levels and muscle efficiency (also, couldn’t PEDs allow for higher lactate thresholds and muscle efficiency?). In fairness, the NG article cited a scientific journal article, perhaps the data was in there. So, the NG article boils down to Lance had better training techniques and was mentally tougher after overcoming cancer. I question whether that is sufficient to demolish world-class elite cyclists on PEDs for seven straight years.

        • http://www.facebook.com/elliot.chester Elliot Chester

          An admirable analysis. This article, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/24/weekinreview/24kola.html, seems to echo a lot of your points and imply that everyone took one look at the results from his tests and said, “Wow, cool!” without placing them in proper context. I’m not sure about how PEDs would affect these readings, nor am I sure of which 10 riders Dr. Coyle was referring to in the NYT article. However, of the very few who were occasionally able to match Armstrong’s pace in 2005 (Basso, Ullrich, Valverde, Rasmussen, Mancebo, Totschnig, Vinokourov, Landis), virtually all have been linked to doping at one point or another, and most have been suspended (although only Ullrich was formally disqualified). While Coyle never named his 10, I’d bet good money that at least a few were among the eight I just listed. And none of these men could match him consistently—he won by a comfortable margin.

          So in the end, as you say, it comes to down to claims of superior training methods and mental toughness—that is, the factors that are hardest to quantify. It is suspect reasoning, I agree, but I’m not sure how you could ever definitively prove a case against him using such subjective factors in absence of hard evidence. Which, of course, is a big reason why we’re still talking about this to begin with.

  • Roger

    “But, of course, it’s tough to convince your buddies to dope themselves to the eyeballs if you’re the clean and sober one… so, Lance simply let them believe he was doping too.”

    I don’t see this as a feasible explanation at all. Many of Lance’s former teammates testified under oath to Federal prosecutors that they doped WITH Lance. I find it hard to believe that Lance’s teammates would lie under oath that they doped with Lance and put themselves at risk of perjury charges and jail time. So, if they doped with Lance, the idea that Lance was really clean but tricked them into thinking he was doping just isn’t feasible. Did Lance inject saline solution with his teammates as they injected EPO? Were Lance’s blood bags filled with red Koolaid when he and his teammates did blood transfusions together? .

    • http://www.facebook.com/elliot.chester Elliot Chester

      All fair questions. It does seem absurd when you phrase it in that way. But that’s sort of my main point: 2 and 2 don’t make 4 here on either side, and they don’t really come all that close either. Part of why I was willing to entertain GPJ’s theory was because it’s no more unlikely than Eddy Merckx testing positive because someone framed him (I think he blamed a doctored drink) or Alberto Contador consuming tainted meat or any other number of ridiculous stories we’ve been fed over the years, whether true ot not.

      Point is, there’s not much I’d rule out at this point. You and I may not see it as rational or feasible, but oftentimes these riders seem to have completely different and often bizarre ways of thinking.

      Thanks for reading!

      • Roger

        Don’t forget Hamilton’s “Vanishing Twin” story!

        • http://www.facebook.com/elliot.chester Elliot Chester

          Duly noted in the original article. A personal favorite, although for all the wrong reasons. Following this stuff sometimes requires a bit of a warped sense of humor…

          • Roger

            Hi Elliot, I like your article. I found it contemplative. I teach college level developmental biology. After I cover the biology of twinning, I tell Hamilton’s twin story. It always captures the student’s interest and gets a big laugh.
            On a serious note, during the cancer biology section, I devote a full class to Lance Armstrong. Prostate cancer, metastasis, and cancer therapy strategies. I also briefly discussed the physical demands of the TdF. Many years ago, it started out as a single powerpoint slide, but I just kept adding to it each year until it was a full class. It was a great way to teach cancer biology. We covered the biological mechanisms of an insidious disease, yet in a background of hope and inspiration. I always left that lecture pumped up and ready to get on my bike or go running. A few years ago, the lecture just wasn’t getting the same reaction. I thought maybe because Lance retired and wasn’t as current. Yet I think the cloud of dishonesty is also a factor. I still think the LA story is incredible. To overcome late-stage malignant cancer and rise to the top of one of the most physically demanding athletic events is incredible – both physically and mentally (even if he used PEDs like so many of his peers). What bothers me is the dishonesty. I haven’t decided yet if I am going to change the theme for the cancer class and use another example. Perhaps I can stick with Lance’s example and frame it as “he overcame cancer and rose to the top under similar competition conditions as his peers. At this point, I’m comfortable with the biological and medical aspects of the cancer part, but the more I read about the competition part, the more reservations I get.
            If any of your readers know of an inspiring story of overcoming cancer that I could use as a teaching tool, please let me know (public access to pictures and video regarding the story is a plus!).

          • http://www.facebook.com/elliot.chester Elliot Chester

            One other sports story you might consider is that of former Montreal Canadiens captain Saku Koivu, whose story follows an arc reminiscent of Lance’s, albeit in a compressed timeframe. Here’s a good story on his battle and recovery:
            http://www.ocregister.com/articles/koivu-216987-cancer-hockey.html

            A cursory look at YouTube reveals some good video footage, though not much. A search for “saku koivu playoff” yields 2 decent videos, one of the ovation he received upon returning and one of him scoring during his playoff run that year.

            Other good stories include those of Mario Lemieux, who returned to play in the NHL at an exceptionally high level, and Eric Davis, who actually managed to play baseball while being treated for chemo.

            Hope this helps! Let me know if you need other examples.

          • Roger

            Thanks for the suggestions Elliot! Mario is a bit dated (I would need a more current example for cancer therapy). The Koivu story may work. I’ll have to see how many details are available about his chemo and radiation. I found it interesting that after the diagnosis he requested Lance’s book for inspiration.
            http://www.habsworld.net/SakuKoivu_02.php

          • Roger
          • http://www.facebook.com/elliot.chester Elliot Chester

            Wow, another great story. The link between Armstrong and Koivu is an interesting one (because Lance mentions Koivu in his book, too—that’s how I heard about his story to begin with). I’m fairly certain it traces back to Chris Carmichael, who coached both athletes extensively.

            The list of inspirational really does go on and on—and this is just limiting the discussion to elite athletes who recovered from cancer and then returned to form as elite athletes, which is unto itself a pretty narrow cross-section of the general population. Glad I could help some!

  • Videokie

    Excellent article and insightful, well written comments. Thank you.

    • http://www.facebook.com/elliot.chester Elliot Chester

      Wow, thanks! Glad you enjoyed it.

  • henry

    GPJ-

    That’s an interesting theory. Many of Lance’s former teammates (now including fresh allegations against Hincapie, Vaughters and others) are convicted dopers, and his success against the tests is hard to ignore.

    But the simple facts about his riding, compared to those today, are literally incredible. Consider: In the last 7-8 years, bicycle technology has improved, training techniques have improved, and Lance’s tactic of devoting an entire team’s effort toward supporting one GC contender has become more widely accepted. In spite of this, the tours in which Lance Armstrong competed had a significantly higher average speed than those today (Wikipedia has this information). While that may be chalked up to doping in the peloton, and not necessarily Lance, his success within that peloton is suspect.

    At last year’s tour, one of the strongest pools of serious GC contenders ever to compete in a single tour battled up Pyrennean climbs as climbing specialist vs. climbing specialist. And yet they, a group including Alberto Contador (who beat Lance in his 3rd place comeback and a convicted doper himself), ascended more than three minutes slower (up the Col du Tourmalet or Plateau de Beille, I think) than the leaders in Lance’s era. And Lance consistently beat those riders. There is a clear spike in performance during Lance’s era, and he absorbs the bulk of that era’s resulting suspicion as its greatest champion.

    Even if Lance did dope, he was still a phenomenal athlete. I agree that his performances in his try-athlons are real and impressive. But that only demonstrates that he can be a great athlete in a doping era and a non-doping era. Based on the massive discrepancy in power between dopers and non-dopers, success against the latter does not legitimize success against the former.

    And qrt145: One of the primary issues with doping is that some people do it better than others. Just as funky, outlandish aero bikes were outlawed in the early ’90′s to prevent the elevation of a technological arms race, doping is banned so that the team with the best chemicals does not have an advantage. Doping is dangerous, and allowing doping detracts from the purity of the physical competition by introducing a significant chemical (and therefore non-athletic) element to the sport while harming the riders’ health.

    Also: The UCI does not operate on an “innocent until proven guilty” basis for many doping cases, but it does for some. Contador, for instance, was guilty unless he could prove the picograms of clenbuterol were introduced to his body by legal means. The presence of the drug is a guilty sentence that the athlete has to disprove. Obviously Lance’s case is a bit different, so don’t jump to conclusions linking his case to other prominent doping cases.

    I don’t like Lance because of the way he’s wielded the political power of his Livestrong Foundation, and I think he needs to be convicted. I think Lance doped. The other issue that so many people are raising is, simply, whether the sport stands to lose more than it will gain by convicting him. As I said before, I think he needs to be convicted, and if necessary, stripped of his titles. No budging on that for me.

    But, then again, I’m sure someone out there disagrees with me on that…

    • http://www.facebook.com/elliot.chester Elliot Chester

      Well, if he’s guilty than of course he needs to be stripped from his titles. I do think it’s important, though, to leave his personal character out of this. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that suggests that Lance has an irascible temperament and is just generally not a very nice person. However, I purposely avoided discussing issues like that (or his marriages/relationships) because, no matter how poorly these things might reflect on his character, they still have nothing to do with whether or not he doped.

      That’s the only point of yours I’d quibble with (and it really is a minor thing—if he winds up on the losing end of all this, it’s pretty much a moot point). Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

  • gpj

    Everybody knew doping was rife in the peloton when Lance was racing, it was an open secret. Clearly, they had all figured out ways to beat the tests, as hardly any of the top pros failed a test for years. I’ve always assumed Lance doped too, as the only clean rider beating all the dopers seemed highly improbable. Nevertheless, I was always a big Lance fan, admired his achievements, enjoyed his books.

    Now, I’m conflicted. It’s kinda old news. But if you doped all those years, maybe you should get investigated, banned, and have your wins cancelled. However, I do think it’s pretty tough to give the wins to anyone else, as it’s pretty likely all the Top 10 finishers were dopers. There’s also the issue of the statue of limitations, not sure how strong the justification is for trying to overturn results from over 10 years ago! Given that so many passed the tests for so long, I don’t think anyone believes that passing 100 tests (or 500, or whatever) is proof that you did not dope. On the other hand, surely it counts for something that you passed all those tests? If it’s an anti-doping agency mostly operating on the basis of positive tests, you have to have something extraordinary to justify action against someone who passed all your tests for 10 years.

    In addition, is it really fair, with a doped-up peloton (because you let them get away with it), to get a few to admit it (with little or no penalty) in order to nail just one of them? Probably, they were all, including Lance, guilty… so how can you hang only Lance?

    Finally, I do have a theory about how both sides CAN be telling the truth. As I said, in his glory years, I thought Lance was a great athlete,but doping like the rest of the peloton. However, his comeback with a 3rd in TdF at 36, was very impressive. At this point, anti-doping is much more effective, I expected it to be much more risky for Lance to keep doping. Yet, at 36, this is a great achievement. Ditto the move to triathlon. Now, anti-doping is really running well, and the peloton is considered clean. It’s very unlikely that Lance could still be doping. Yet, at 40, the guy takes only 3 or 4 triathlons before he is winning against professional triathletes 15 years his junior. This is an amazing level of sporting performance! If he can do this at 40, maybe he really was just that good that he was the only clean racer who could beat the dopers. With his recent performances, this doesn’t seem so hard to believe any more, even for a skeptic like me.

    Hence to my theory. The TdF is a team sport, and you need a strong team to help you make it around. Maybe Lance was great, and clean. And maybe he was smart enough to figure that no matter how good your test-evading skills, it was too risky to dope. But you have access to the latest and greatest doping technology… so what better to do than to make sure your team is doped up, and super-strong, and can tow you round 90% of the course. You just gotta finish strong on the hills, and do a couple of good time trials. But, of course, it’s tough to convince your buddies to dope themselves to the eyeballs if you’re the clean and sober one… so, Lance simply let them believe he was doping too. This also explains why Lance only focused on the TdF, an event where the strong team was critical. As a clean rider, he wouldn’t have had the firepower to compete with the dopers in most of the other events, or be competitive over multiple events.

    Many of the clean riders simply gave up competing because they couldn’t beat doped riders. Lance was obviously a pretty great rider. And he had access to resources most of the other riders didn’t. Instead of giving up, he focused on the event most affected by the strength of your team… and used his resources to get the best riders, and the best doping.

    • http://www.facebook.com/elliot.chester Elliot Chester

      It’s a theory that, and especially applicable to his later wins when USPS was lightyears ahead of all the other teams. I remember after the 2004 Tour, in which he won 5 stages and seemed to absolutely dominate, the VeloNews ran a graphic showing that, time trials excluded, he actually spent less than 10km of the entire Tour at the front of the race.

      Of course, that wasn’t the case in ’99. The team wasn’t terrible, but he found himself isolated pretty frequently, and yet turned in some truly astonishing performances–his ride to Sestriere in particular stands out as a time when he made all the other guys seem like they had training wheels on.

      But it could still work with your theory–the testing then was simply inferior to the methods they have today. It’s definitely conceivable, especially since the domestiques are never suggested to the same testing rigor.

      And to his overall athleticism, the case reminds me a lot of Barry Bonds’ case in this sense. Bonds was an excellent all-around player during his days as the speedy lead-off man for the Pirates. The juice (assuming for a moment that he was definitely cheating) didn’t teach him to be a great baseball player–it merely helped him, like Lance, achieve feats that were previously thought to be impossible. That’s my take anyway.

      As to your comment about the statute of limitations–I think qtr pretty much nailed it in his comment. This is no longer a court of law we’re dealing with here, and the same restrictions don’t apply.

      Thanks for reading and posting such a thoughtful comment!

  • qrt145

    I don’t care if he doped. He is still the best in a sport where doping is standard operating procedure, so it’s not as if he got an unfair advantage!

    I say get rid of the overzealous anti-doping witchhunting agencies. The only true ethical concern regarding doping is the risk to people’s health, as sadly shown in the story you mention about cyclists dying in their sleep. But part of the reason it’s dangerous is because it has been driven underground. Some techniques are more dangerous than others (taking a cold medicine is not likely to kill you but it may get you disqualified!) Plus, professional athletes do many risky things that sometimes get them killed (like riding a bike at 60+ mph down a windy road), so why single out doping?

    You are right that it should be “innocent until proven guilty”. But the USADA process is not part of the real justice system, and based on what I’ve read their case seems to be based on he-said-she-said testimony and a creative reinterpretation of old test results. Not something that could persuade a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. But there is no jury or judge in this is an arbitration process. No wonder some people refer to it as a “kangaroo court”.

    • http://www.facebook.com/elliot.chester Elliot Chester

      You make a lot of good points, and I must admit I’ve often thought along the same lines myself, particularly with regards to the “if everyone else did it, then what’s the big deal?” argument.

      The problem with the overzealous anti-doping witchhunting agencies is that it’s sort of a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. Go easy on everyone, and sooner or later someone will catch Willy Voet 2.0 with a car full of drugs. Press too hard, and you get the Lance opera.

      I know I’m dealing in absolutes, and personally, I’m really not a fan of USADA either. I suppose the point I’m making is that the alternatives to what they’re doing aren’t super either. Easy for me to say, of course–I’m just the writer.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!