Lance Armstrong: an apology for a sportsman

ALL that Lance Armstrong had to do was to release one simple statement: “I have never taken performance-enhancing drugs.”

Instead what came forth from the seven-time Tour de France winner, when the US anti-doping agency said it was stripping him of his titles and banning him from competitive cycling for life, was, “I have never tested positive.”

He might as well have said, “I have never been caught.”

Doping in sport is a race where those who help athletes ingest performance-enhancing drugs advise them on the best blockers that prevent detection. The better the professional advising the athlete, the smaller the chance of getting caught.

It all depends on the talent you can afford to advise you. Unless someone in the circle leaks, you are safe. But in recent years, people have been leaking.

According to the technology site Wired, Armstrong was detected using a corticosteroid back in 1999 but he was able to get away, handing in a prescription that said it was being administered for saddle sores.

But he did not reckon with the fact that USADA and the world anti-doping agency have both concluded that testing has limited value.

After the scandal of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative, which was accused of supplying anabolic steroids to major league baseball players, the doping agency has been more interested in finding snitches. In the BALCO case, the lab was sewn up after Trevor Jones, the sprint coach to Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery, sent a syringe containing a mysterious substance to USADA.

What happened with Armstrong was that was members of his US Postal team had told USADA that he had been doping all along. There were repeated allegations and in the end Armstrong had only one choice – to go to court and defend the charges.

Perhaps he reckoned that there was too much human evidence against him. Perhaps he had nothing to throw back at the allegation which came from people who were once close to him. Perhaps the burden of guilt was beginning to weigh on him. After all you can only keep lying for so long.

Marion Jones lied for a long time after the Sydney Olympics but after her coach snitched on her, she had to admit the truth. Armstrong continues to offer the line that he has never failed a drugs test.

That will do him a fat lot of good. Even if the stripping of the titles never takes place due to bureaucratic wrangling between the doping agencies and the world cycling organisation, he is now spoiled merchandise.

He may have made enough money to last for the next two generations but as the good book says what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul? Armstrong had made a name as an incredible athlete who did the impossible; now he is reduced to a creature of chemicals who could afford better blocking technology.

To me he is a sad caricature of a man in a system that leads people to want to win at any cost, even if it means living a lie.


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