October 22nd, 2012

Lance Armstrong’s guilt

So, what do you think about this? Was Lance Armstrong guilty, despite having passed a gazillion doping tests at the time? Is the testimony of former teammates under the following circumstances convincing enough?:

Former Armstrong team mates at his U.S. Postal and Discovery Channel outfits, where he won his seven successive Tour titles from 1999 to 2005, testified against him and themselves and were given reduced bans by the American authorities.

“It wasn’t until the intervention of federal agents…they called these riders in and they put down a gun and badge on the table in front of them and said ‘you’re now facing a grand jury you must tell the truth’ that those riders broke down,” McQuaid added.

I confess I haven’t followed this story—or cycling itself—much. Its practitioners at the highest level, like those in so many other sports, are driven to be the very best, and many are willing to cut corners to do so. The more people who dope, the more the others will feel it necessary that they do it too to keep up, even though it’s wrong.

That means the sport will probably always be a race between the doping detection commissions and the cheaters to see who’s more technically advanced.

And if everybody was doing it, why focus on Armstrong? Is it because he started it, or because he perfected it, or because he did it more often? Or is it just because he was the very best—at cycling and at doping?

13 Responses to “Lance Armstrong’s guilt”

  1. Tesh Says:

    I suspect it’s the old “make an example” psychology; take down the most visible target instead of trying to root out the problem from the ground up in an effort to look like the Problem Has Been Solved.

    …note, this is what I think completely independent of whether or not Armstrong is *actually* guilty.

  2. roc scssrs Says:

    “Driven” is right. I don’t like to make a snap judgement, but I did once read the first 20 or 30 pages of his autobiography. They left me with the impression his whole racing career was an attempt to get back at people in his hometown for stuff they did to him in, like, sixth grade. It certainly seemed warped and a little creepy.

  3. Steve Says:

    Somehow I don’t think his teammates would have admitted to doping unless they were guilty. It is a classic example of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. They were unlikely to rat out Lance because any one alone could be discredited but when faced with the choice of me or him (and possibly knowing other teammates had confessed) they chose to lessen their sentence.

  4. thomass Says:

    There are also the bias issues. For one; the French don’t like the guy.

  5. southpaw Says:

    Some of his friends who “testified” had been caught via testing. To me there’s no point in testing anyone, if all it takes to be disqualified from any competition, is the losing athletes get to declare the winner cheated. I find it hard to believe a guy who was constantly scrutinized and accused of doping, would openly do so in front of anybody, not his teammates, friends, or family. It’s as dumb as you can get.
    He passed every test he was given, many more than were required by the governing bodies, simply because the French and a number of others refused to believe he wasn’t cheating.
    If you’re willing to accept this as the proof of guilt, just call the whole thing what it is – a joke. Winning is subject to your relative popularity within the international communnity and your competitors. If Lance was French, they would defend his honor as the greatest cyclist who ever lived. They never acknowledged a single victory without accusations; seven was a foregone conclusion.
    i have no idea if Lance cheated, and neither does anybody else. Nobody has proved he did, and I am not able to believe he was dumb enough to tell everybody he was, or to do it in their presence.

  6. GoneWithTheWind Says:

    It certainly appears that Armstrong was “doping”. However without exception all of those fellow riders have stated everyone does it. Every team and every rider on every team. In fact the weight of the evidence against Armstrong is simply “We (his accusers) did it and thus we know he did it as well.” No one seems to have clean hands. so if Lance didn’t win those races who did? They were all doping. Where is the high ground here? Whoever cam in second will now be pronounced the winner but they were doping too. A friend who is into bike racing has stated flat out that Europeans consider the Tour de France to belong to Europeans and have been making these claims against Armstrong for years simply because he is an upstart American. So who holds the high ground? I’m all in favor of eliminating cheating from any and all sports but as I understand it not only did all the participants use drugs but all the officials were always fully aware that everyone used drugs. This amounted to tacit approval so why the Jihad on Armstrong?

  7. Tom Says:

    I am a cyclist, and have followed cycling since around the time Lance started racing before his cancer. I’ve read both of his books, the first one twice. I’m unwilling to stand up and say that he didn’t dope only because I’ve been burned too many times defending athletes who swore their innocence, only to have them come back later and confess. With all that said, Lance lost a bunch of weight during his cancer. He also made diet a cornerstone of his cancer therapy. He trains like a madman. He’s probably the most tested athlete in sports, and has never tested positive. There were some accusations centering around a backup sample, that somehow got leaked to the media, which was found to have tested positive. I will always kinda question that, since it was obtained through some dubious methods. I have a hard time believing teammates who were given more lenient punishment because of their testimony. I think he’s innocent until proven guilty, and I don’t think he’s been proven guilty by any means I’m willing to accept. The next thing you have to consider is who are you going to give the titles to? All of his closest competitors HAVE tested positive. I don’t know whether he’s guilty or innocent, but based on what I’ve seen, I have a hard time saying he’s guilty.

  8. Sam L. Says:

    He may have. But he was tested extensively and appears to have passed all those tests.

  9. davisbr Says:

    I’ve followed cycling fairly consistently since the Eddy Merckx days.

    I start with some assurance from those years with the assumption that “Everyone dopes”.

    Hmm.

    Let me re-phrase that …to ….

    Every winner and every cyclist who hope to be a winner, dopes.

    Uh: pro’s don’t enter cycling who don’t hope to be winners (so the re-phrase is mostly unnecessary).

    The logical conclusion (pretty much based upon firm historical precedent biased toward “common knowledge” amongst fans) is the chemically enhanced cyclist is a superior performer.

    If you think that sucks, well, “me too”.

    But what was, was and it is what it is.

    Since everyone does it (some, apparently, better than others), that creates a defacto “level playing field”. Which is in one sense the very definition of what we [fans] desire most about a sport, and in those who participate in sports.

    (Any cyclist retroactively whining about the situation and proclaiming their lack of culpability, and/or their HIGHLY improbable innocence, being both hypocritical AND a probable liar …to a very high degree of probability.)

    Which puts the issue of winning back into a “the better man wins” (presumably because everyone has access to the same range of chemical enhancements, this is logically obvious).

    The question to me has never been “did or didn’t Lance” (frankly, following cycling for years has made me a jaded cynic: he pretty obviously and quite convincingly won …much to the displeasure, chagrin, and often outright hostility of French aficionados of the sport …of which, ahem, the admittedly petty and tritely jingoistic phrase “bite me Frog boy” jumps to my tongue), but instead “why go after Lance” …after he’d already successfully ran the gauntlet of then-current testing.

    And passed ‘em with flying colors.

    Dunno.

    This has not made me happy. And it is not good for the sport per se.

    Don’t like it.

    Don’t prefer either witch hunts (even if the witches are honest-to-gawd real witches, and especially just “minding their own business”) nor do I like kangaroo courts.

    A truly consistent investigation would probably strip every winner of every professional race (and likely, too many of the well-funded amateur races) in the history of cycling of their medals.

    AND all their fellow competitors.

    The record books would be …cleared.

    Erased.

    It ain’t pretty.

    So going after Lance …singling him out in this fasion …hasn’t been noble in any sense of the word.

    This is a travesty. Period.

  10. rsb Says:

    He didn’t pass all the drug tests. In one instance he failed a test for cortiosteroids but came up with a postdated prescription.

    There was no test to detect EPO until 2000. Until that time you got banned after your hematocrit went over 50. Keep it under 50 and you are fine. Said differently, do EPO but don’t let your hematocrit go over 50 and you are fine. After the test was devised they started taking smaller doses.

    If you believe he did not dope you are out of your mind. Read “The Secret Race” by Tyler Hamilton. It is very interesting to read how this was all possible.

  11. Mac Says:

    I know nothing about any of this except the little I’ve gotten from reading the headlines over the years, and I don’t really much care one way or the other, but Armstrong’s complete and continuing domination over so many years long ago caused me to wonder if there wasn’t a Secret Ingredient involved. The relatively rare cancer also made me wonder. As did the recent tell-all by a former employee/associate–I guess I read that because I had finally become curious. Yes, disgruntled, etc., but either he was lying big-time or Armstrong was up to some funny business.

  12. Pat Says:

    @Tom: My position exactly. Lance was tested countless times and always passed. He played by the rules and still passed. He has been convicted on hearsay by dopers looking for leniency. But why bother with drug testing? Passing doesn’t count.

  13. A_Nonny_Mouse Says:

    He’s been “convicted” based on NOTHING, just hearsay testimony (well, also the USADA’s fervent belief that “he COULDN’T have won all those races if he was clean”.)

    As noted above in other comments, there is NO PROOF that he did anything banned or illegal. He, of course, MAY have done so, but THERE IS NO PROOF OF IT.

    As far as the “testimony”: think “Salem Witch trials”. There are plenty of people willing to lie about ANYTHING to get on, or stay on, the “right side” of powerful people with an axe to grind.

    This has been a despicable episode in the USADA’s history; their decision was made based on group-think and not any kind of objective fact.

    [And to tie this to politics, which we weren't addressing, THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU ALLOW SOME REGULATORY BODY TO HAVE A LOT OF POWER, A LOT OF MONEY, AND NO CONTROL, NO OVERSIGHT, NO CHECKS-AND-BALANCES. This same kind of BS is exactly what we'll get with the many Expert Panels created under Obamacare. It's what we've already seen with the EPA unilaterally deciding that CO2 is "hazardous" and thus they can regulate it. What other agencies? EEOC, ATF, I can't think of all the alphabet-soup bureaucracies who get to tell us what to do and how to do it... !! This is what happens when Our Ruling Elites decide that more and more facets of our lives and businesses need to be controlled. The Congress-Critters who want to peel our freedoms away one-by-one don't want to be held to account by an annoyed electorate, so they just toss the football of responsibility off to a new regulatory agency and -voila- their hands are clean.]

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