The Fall of Lance Armstrong and implications for sport

The Fall of Lance Armstrong and implications for sport

Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling and he deserves to be forgotten in cycling.

These were the words of president of the International Cycling Union (UCI), Pat McQuaid, speaking on Monday 21 October 2012 on the organisation’s decision to withdraw Armstrong titles won in the world’s most popular cycling event.

Over the past several weeks we have witnessed the unravelling of the Lance Armstrong mystique. Some would suggest that we have really seen the unmasking of a one-time hero of sport and a role model for cancer survivors particularly in the USA but really across the world.

Lance Armstrong was stripped of all seven titles he won in the gruelling Tour de France and there is now intense pressure to have him return monies won and bonuses received. He also resigned from the Livestrong Foundation he established several years ago intended to assist in the fight against cancer.

Already, Nike, Trek, Anheuser-Busch and Oakley have signed off their sponsorship with Lance Armstrong, leaving him all alone as he continues to deny the findings of the United States Anti Doping Agency (USADA) released in June of this year.

 

The evidence

In June 2012 USADA announced its decision in respect of Lance Armstrong’s doping violations. This was followed by support from the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA), which felt that the evidence was sufficiently compelling.

On 10 June 2012 USADA released the evidence to the public allowing anyone to arrive at their own conclusion. The USADA document contained in excess of 1000 pages and provides 26 sworn statements from witnesses. They explain how Armstrong essentially developed a most sophisticated doping scheme inclusive of mechanisms to avoid detection by the authorities in the sport.

It has been suggested that the fellow competitors were pressured to be part of the gigantic scheme.

Some may recall that in 2010 Floyd Landis, a former teammate of Lance Armstrong, admitted to engaging in doping. In an article by Bonnie D Ford for ESPN.com dated 21 May 2010, it was stated, In a lengthy telephone interview from California, Landis detailed extensive, consistent use of the red blood cell booster erythropoietin (commonly known as EPO), testosterone, human growth hormone and frequent blood transfusions, along with female hormones and a one-time experiment with insulin, during the years he rode for the U.S. Postal Service and Switzerland-based Phonak teams.

Perhaps more importantly for us here, the article also pointed out that Landis was not alone in this doping scandal. Ford wrote, Landis confirmed he sent e-mails to cycling and anti-doping officials over the past few weeks, implicating dozens of other athletes including seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, team management and owners, and officials of the sport’s national and international governing bodies.

Landis’ accusation of Armstrong was to be an important phase in the work of anti doping agencies associated with cycling to get to the bottom of it.

On 24 July 2010, ESPN.com news services carried an article headlined, Landis again accuses Armstrong. The article stated, Landis, in an interview on ABC’s “Nightline” on Friday night, said Armstrong — his former teammate and friend — transfused his own blood, a banned practice that gives athletes an advantage by increasing their red blood-cell count and, therefore, their endurance. It further stated, Landis also said that Armstrong gave him testosterone patches — a charge he has made before — and that he saw Armstrong receiving blood transfusions during races.

The article went back to an earlier interview involving Landis and ESPN’s Ford where Landis observed, I don’t feel guilty at all about having doped. I did what I did because that’s what we [cyclists] did and it was a choice I had to make after 10 years or 12 years of hard work to get there, and that was a decision I had to make to make the next step. My choices were, do it and see if I can win, or don’t do it and I tell people I just don’t want to do that, and I decided to do it.

Landis’s statement here suggests rather strongly that as far as he was concerned doping was the thing to do amongst the cyclists.

It must be remembered that the sport of cycling and particularly the Tour de France has been tainted by allegations of doping for some time. To have a cyclist, a participant of a wining team make public revelations of this sort must have sent shock waves through the entire sporting fraternity, not just that of cycling.

In USADA’s investigation, five of Lance Armstrong former teammates gave sworn testimony and have since all received six-month bans along with having their results annulled by the UCI. In an article in Reuters dated 11 October 2012, Julian Linden wrote, Tom Danielson, George Hincapie, Levi Leipheimer, Christian Vande Velde and David Zabriskie all agreed to serve six-month suspensions as part of a plea bargain to provide sworn testimony to the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).

USADA as well as WADA seem to think that they have more than adequate evidence of Armstrong’s involvement despite claims to the contrary by the cyclist.

 

Armstrong’s response

I have never doped, and, unlike many of my accusers, I have competed as an endurance athlete for 25 years with no spike in performance, passed more than 500 drug tests and never failed one.

The foregoing was in a statement presented by Lance Armstrong following the USADA decision in June. He insisted then just as he does now that he has never doped.

While Armstrong has remained insistent things around him and indeed around the cycling world have unravelled with such speed that he has been forced against the proverbial wall.

A USADA report however claimed that it had “undeniable evidence” that Armstrong was one of the ringleaders of a sophisticated and elaborate doping programme that took him to the top of the cycling world.

The reality is that it is hard to find athletes who have readily accepted charges of doping levelled against them. Most, if not all, jump quick to denial.

The problem is that it was expected that Armstrong would have denied. What is surprising is his continued denials in the face of the overwhelming evidence in support of the charges.

Many wonder why it is that Armstrong has held on to this position. The answer may well lie in the fact that he has so much to lose. He has been such a tower of strength for so many, especially people with cancer. It was hard for him to leave all that behind. Even today the charity he founded has been in receipt of increased funding from fewer people in the aftermath of the decisions of USADA and UCI.

In a USA Today article carried in the edition of Tuesday 23 October 2012 it was argued that Armstrong and his lawyers may well have adopted the wrong strategy in holding on to denials. The argument suggests that had he agreed to the charges early he would not have had the kind of harsh responses now being visited upon him by all and sundry. He made his choice and now watches as he falls from grace with just about everyone.

 

Related issues

In the aftermath of the hailstorm of accusations of doping in cycling, especially during the Tour de France, it came as no surprise that some attempted to pint an accusing finger at the governing body for the sport, the UCI.

Floyd Landis dared to point just such a finger at the UCI and has been asked to pay a heavy price. In an article carried by ESPN.com news services dated 4 October 2012, has the headline, UCI hails win in Floyd Landis case. The article states, The International Cycling Union said a Swiss court ruling has prohibited Floyd Landis from repeating claims that UCI leaders corruptly protected Lance Armstrong from a doping case.

“The judgment upholds and protects the integrity of the UCI and its presidents,” the world cycling body said Wednesday in a statement released with copies of the court document.

In a Sept. 26 ruling on the defamation case published Wednesday by the UCI, Landis is ordered to pay UCI president Pat McQuaid and predecessor Hein Verbruggen $10,667 each, plus legal costs totaling $4,900.

According to the article, The ruling forbids Landis from stating that “Patrick (Pat) McQuaid and/or Henricus (Hein) Verbruggen have concealed cases of doping, received money for doing so, have accepted money from Lance Armstrong to conceal a doping case, have protected certain racing cyclists (and) concealed cases of doping.” McQuaid is of course the president of the UCI.

This is certainly not the first time that there have been attempts to link governing bodies of sport to cover-ups and it is also not the first time that the accusers have been thrown out.

The problem however remains as to the extent to which the UCI had suspicions about Armstrong and others in the sport.

Is it possible that anyone in the sport would not have had suspicions about someone winning the world’s most gruelling event for seven successive years?

The UCI, like the IAAF and Major League Baseball must obviously rush to protect itself and its image. But there will always be lingering doubts.

To this day there are lingering doubts over the IAAF and Ben Johnson’s exploits in the sport. There are still doubts about the achievements of Florence Griffith-Joyner, despite the many pronouncements.

What has emerged in sport in respect of doping makes the statement attributed to former IOC president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, as the last millennium came to a close, all the more interesting and worthy of investigation. Many wonder what could possibly have prompted Samaranch to propose the cessation of all world records in Olympic sports at the end of that millennium and the commencement of a new world records list effective the start of the new millennium.

Today it is about Lance Armstrong. The question that remains unanswered is whether his are the only phenomenal achievement sin sport that has given us reason to ponder whether the drug cheats do not continue to be well ahead of the game and WADA.

Sharing is caring!