Why You Shouldn’t Care About Lance Armstrong

Every professional athlete is cheating, in some capacity. 

I’m not saying that every successful athlete is taking testosterone shots to their back side three times a week.  I’m not saying that all pros are ingesting HGH at carefully selected points during the month.  But on some small level, every modern athlete is cheating. The level at which that cheating is crosses over from “strong work ethic” to “performance enhancing” is arbitrary.  Sports science and sports medicine have both developed to the point that we need to consider the possibility that we need to get rid of the idea of cheating via PEDs all together. 

That Lance Armstrong allegedly was “blood doping” during his seven Tour de France titles matters not.  After all, as was pointed out today, 41 of the 70 riders who finished in the top tens of those races has been busted for PEDs as well. This is a sport where one could argue that you weren’t even really competing unless you were cheating.  And that’s pretty much true for all sports in the modern era.

While the extent of the cheating varies from sport to sport, it exists in every major professional sport.  It’s a product of the unquenchable thirst to push the boundaries of the human body farther and faster than they’ve ever gone before.  A wide receiver loses a step or two, get him off the field!  An outfielder only has warning track power, cut him!  Shooting guard X can’t even dunk anymore, leave him on the bench! We’re all to blame for it which is why we shouldn’t care that it exists in any capacity.  These athletes are obligated to cheat if they want to compete at the insane levels required of professional sports.

Let’s just get this over with really quick. The common misconception with PEDs is that athletes use them primarily to get stronger.  While getting stronger can be considered a nice consilation prize, the primary purpose of using PEDs is to recover more quickly from injury, however major or minor that injury might be.  Basic excercise “injures” the muscles in some small capacity and through the body’s natural processes, the muscle rebuilds itself stronger for the next time.  The faster that rebuilding process takes place, the better.  By having muscles that aren’t injured, the body is more responsive in athletic activity.

Ask yourself an honest question, at what point does an athlete’s use of a foreign substance constitute cheating in your mind?

How can a person honestly argue that ingesting a protein shake after a workout is any different than using HGH?  The desired outcome is the same.  Both protein and HGH work to help the body recover from the workout.  Why is one substance perfectly normal and accepted as a legal rehabilitation method while the other is not?  Protein powder is a manufactured substance, mass produced for the sole purpose of helping people recover from workouts.  Why isn’t HGH available in the same capacity?

The ONLY, and there is only one, ONLY argument that can be used to stymie the use of performance enhancing drugs is with regards to the safety of the human body.  To which I’d counter, regulate it!  Regulate it like alcohol.  Regulate it like tobacco.  Make people aware of any health problems that come with its abuse but then let them have at it.  To come up with an explanation that some substances provide individuals a significant advantage while others do not is as asinine as the NCAA trying to justify the existence of amateur athletics.  There is no point anymore.  Let’s get rid of the hypocrisy all together and just admit it happens and try to regulate it so that some teenager doesn’t cause long-term damage to his kidneys by secretly shooting himself up too often with anabolic steroids.

And this doesn’t even get into the really ground-breaking area of PEDs, the type which Armstrong’s case ventured into.  What if performance enhancing drugs come from the very body with which they will eventually go back in to?  That’s sort of complex.  Here’s the easy way of saying it: how do we feel about guys like Kobe Bryant having their blood withdrawn, spun in a centrifuge, and then shot back into parts of their body?  It’s not a natural process but the ingredients, if you will, are all natural.  Are we as a society really going to try to sit down at a table and figure out which procedures like this are okay and which ones constitute cheating?  I don’t see columnists and sports anchors across the country crying foul over Kobe, but I’ll be god damned if Lance Armstrong dropped a little EPO into his blood!  That’s a god damn shame I tell you!  A shame!  And, oh yeah, what does EPO stand for again?

Exactly.

If there’s one thing that history has taught us during steroid scandals, it’s that the scientists and the athletes are always three steps ahead of the people trying to regulate it.  There are vastly superior resources devoted towards always pushing the bounds of sports science as opposed to regulating it. It’s a waste of everyone’s time and emotions to keep insisting that we need to continue persecuting the alleged “cheaters.”  Instead of having another pointless Salem Witch Trial, why don’t we take a proactive step and actually encourage safe experimentation and consumption of these products?  End the charade once and for all and I promise we’ll all be a lot happier as sports fans.

So seriously, sit down today and try to come up with “the line” at which you consider an athlete cheating today.  Hit me back in the comments even at which point I’ll dissect your argument 1,000 times over for its flaws and hypocrisies.  And if you still think PEDs are the devil, well, you’re probably a fan of the BCS and Skip Bayless.

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Sports Illustrated Is Set To Give Lance Armstrong The Barry Bonds Treatment

Prepare yourselves.  It is almost guaranteed that Lance was doping when he won his record seven straight Tour de France titles.  I asked in a piece last year whether this would matter and said the following:

What Lance Armstrong accomplished was remarkable, surviving cancer and all to go on and capture a record seven straight Tour de France titles.  We know this.  But, does it even matter anymore?  I think the draw of Lance winning in the first place was that an American had rarely accomplished the feat, and thus it was amplified way beyond what was necessary.  If it turns out it was all a hoax, will you really care?  Be honest.  There is no way you were tuning in actually watching Armstrong as he rode a bike for hours at a time.  Are you going to shout from the mountain tops about the integrity of cycling being forever and irreversibly breached??  No way!  We can’t forget that Armstrong used his public position to create one of the most successful cancer research movements EVER.  It’s a sick/twisted bit of irony that PEDs may have been the source of all of that, but surely the good outweighs the bad, no?

Take a minute and honestly think about what your reaction will be and then delve into this information, courtesy of Sports Illustrated:

According to the story, “If a court finds that Armstrong won his titles while taking performance-enhancing drugs, his entourage may come to be known as the domestiques of the saddest deception in sports history.”

Among SI’s revelations:

• In the late 1990s, according to a source with knowledge of the government’s investigation of Armstrong, the Texan gained access to a drug, in clinical trial, called HemAssist, developed by Baxter Healthcare Corp. HemAssist was to be used for cases of extreme blood loss. In animal studies, it had been shown to boost the blood’s oxygen-carrying capacity, without as many risks as EPO. (Armstrong, though his lawyer, denies ever taking HemAssist.)

• One of the perks of traveling with Armstrong, former USPS rider Floyd Landis recalls, was frequent trips on private airline charters. Private airports often subject travelers to less stringent customs checks. But Landis tells SI about the day in 2003 that he, Armstrong and team members flew into St. Moritz, where customs officials requested that they open their duffel bags for a search. “Lance had a bag of drugs and s—,” says Landis. “They wanted to search it, which was out of the ordinary.” Sifting through Armstrong’s bag, agents found syringes and drugs with labels written in Spanish. As Landis recounts, Armstrong then asked a member of his contingent to convince the agents that the drugs were vitamins and that the syringes were for vitamin injections. The agents “looked at us sideways,” says Landis, “but let us through.” (Armstrong denies that this incident ever occurred.)

Armstrong won that year’s Tour de France by a scant 61 seconds over his archrival, Jan Ullrich of Germany. It was by far the narrowest of his seven Tour victories.

• When Italian police and customs officials raided the home of longtime Armstrong teammate Yarolslav Popovych last November, they discovered documents and PEDs as well as texts and e-mails linking Armstrong’s team to controversial Italian physician Michele Ferrari as recently as 2009, though Armstrong had said he cut ties with Ferrari in 2004.

• In a letter reviewed by SI, Armstrong’s testosterone-epitestosterone ratio was reported to be higher than normal on three occasions between 1993 and 1996, but in each case the test was dismissed by the UCLA lab of renowned anti-doping expert Don Catlin, whose lab tested the Texan some two dozen times between 1990 and 2000. In addition to detailing those test results, SI reveals what appears to have been a reluctance from USOC officials to sanction athletes using performance-enhancing drugs.

In 1999, USA Cycling sent a formal request to Catlin for past test results — specifically, testosterone-epitestosterone ratios — for a cyclist identified only by his drug-testing code numbers. A source with knowledge of the request says that the cyclist was Armstrong. In a letter responding to those requests, Catlin informed USA Cycling that his lab could not recover five of the cyclist’s test results. Of the results that could be found, “three stand out,” SI reports: “a 9.0-to-1 ratio from a sample collected on June 23, 1993; a 7.6-to-1 from July 7, 1994; and a 6.5-to-1 from June 4, 1996. Most people have a ratio of 1-to-1. Prior to 2005, any ratio above 6.0-to-1 was considered abnormally high and evidence of doping; in 2005 that ratio was lowered to 4.0-to-1.”

While he didn’t address the 6.5-to-1 result, Catlin wrote that he had attempted confirmation (a required step) on the 9.0-to-1 and 7.6-to-1 samples, and “in both cases the confirmation was unsuccessful and the samples were reported negative.” (Armstrong says he has never taken performance-enhancing drugs and has never been informed that he tested positive.)

• Stephen Swart, a New Zealander who rode with Armstrong on the Motorola squad in 1995, describes the Texan as the driving force behind some of the team members deciding to use the banned blood booster EPO. “He was the instigator,” Swart tells SI. “It was his words that pushed us toward doing it.”

Swart, who admits to using EPO himself, also describes a hotel-room ritual in which riders pricked their fingers, put the blood in a vial, then ran it through a toaster-sized machine that provided their hematocrit levels.

A hematocrit reading higher than 50 results in a 15-day ban. Swart recalls a rest-day during the ’95 Tour when the Motorola riders tested their hematocrit levels. Swart himself was at 48. “Lance was 54 or 56,” he recalls.

The next day, their teammate Fabio Casartelli was killed as the result of a crash while descending Col de Portet d’Aspet, in the Pyrenees. Three days later, Armstrong attacked a group of breakaway riders, soloing to victory in Stage 18, pointing to the heavens as he crossed the line, in honor of his fallen teammate. “I rode with the strength of two men today,” he proclaimed. (Armstrong denies ever using performance-enhancing drugs.)

It’s going to be terrible when it happens, but I think we can all agree on one thing at this point:  it’s going to happen.

I hate when the French are right.

[SI]

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“Bad Meat” Caused Failed Drug Test Says Tour De France Winner

Is the sport of cycling still making the news?  Although I have a feeling this suspension and drug test might get overruled, this latest development can do nothing but further diminish Americans interest in the sport.  From the NY Times, “Contador, a Spaniard formerly on the Astana team, could lose the title he won this year and face a two-year suspension.  He learned about the positive test for the banned drug clenbuterol, a weight-loss and muscle-building drug, on Aug. 24, nearly a month after winning the Tour, the statement said. He had tested positive for the substance on July 21, one day before the race’s decisive mountain stage.  Contador, who has signed to ride for the Saxo Bank team next year, said he ingested the drug accidentally.  ‘The experts consulted so far have agreed also that this is a food-contamination case, especially considering the number of tests passed by Alberto Contador during the Tour de France,’ his statement said.”

Food contamination, gets you every time!

[NY Times]

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Walls About To Come Crashing Down On Lance Armstrong?

I think we’re going to wake up some time in the next 12 months and find out that Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Roger Clemens have something in common with Lance Armstrong.  It appears as if federal investigators are inching closer to revealing that Armstrong may have used performance enhancing drugs during his run of Tour de France titles.  Check out this rundown over on Sports by Brooks which details everything that is going on right now since Floyd Landis came out a couple of months ago to “expose” Armstrong for using PEDs.  I think before we pass down judgement on Lance on what seems to be an inevitable outcome, it will be important to heed the lessons of MLB.  Will Armstrong vehemently deny the allegations until his grave, as Roger Clemens has chosen to do?  Will he take the route of Andy Pettitte, who held a press conference to admit his sins and beg forgiveness?  It will be intriguing to see what road he takes once this story is fully disclosed to the public.  Clemens and Bonds will likely be held out of the HOF by the voters because of the public stances they took, while no one even remembers anymore that Pettitte was just as guilty.  Armstrong certainly needs to sit down and calculate what his public response will be and unfortunately his first few statements have foreshadowed that he might be headed down the same avenues as Clemens.

What Lance Armstrong accomplished was remarkable, surviving cancer and all to go on and capture a record seven straight Tour de France titles.  We know this.  But, does it even matter anymore?  I think the draw of Lance winning in the first place was that an American had rarely accomplished the feat, and thus it was amplified way beyond what was necessary.  If it turns out it was all a hoax, will you really care?  Be honest.  There is no way you were tuning in actually watching Armstrong as he rode a bike for hours at a time.  Are you going to shout from the mountain tops about the integrity of cycling being forever and irreversibly breached??  No way!  We can’t forget that Armstrong used his public position to create one of the most successful cancer research movements EVER.  It’s a sick/twisted bit of irony that PEDs may have been the source of all of that, but surely the good outweighs the bad, no? [Sports by Brooks]

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