Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong probably did what his accusers say he did.

He probably used performance-enhancing drugs, and these drugs probably helped him win seven consecutive Tours de France in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The allegations that he did are in the news again, with former teammate Tyler Hamilton telling 60 Minutes that Armstrong used banned substances and encouraged others on the U.S. Postal team to do so.

Armstrong has, yet again, denied it. Another teammate from the same time period backs him up. So does the International Cycling Union. And it bears repeating that Lance Armstrong has undergone numerous drug tests over the years, and never tested positive.

But I think he probably used performance enhancing drugs – he “doped,” to use the vernacular. I have no first-hand knowledge of this. I can't prove a thing. But it appears doping was part and parcel to the culture of professional cycling during the years Armstrong was establishing himself as the premier cyclist of his generation.

If this is correct, then it follows that cyclists of that era may have had the sense that they had to use drugs, just to level the playing field.

I think too many are too quick to use the term “cheated,” when it comes to this. I object to the characterization as a gross over-simplification. Yeah, there are athletes who cheat. Sometimes the competitive drive brings out a misguided, win-at-any-cost attitude. I can't know for sure that Armstrong is not like that.

Is doping unethical? Absolutely. Is it cheating? Too simple, too pat. I think that the entire culture participated, from riders to trainers to managers and doctors. With the shit hitting the fan, the cyclists are the ones left twisting in the wind.

If Lance Armstrong suffers the fall from grace he may well suffer (to say nothing of other potential consequences), it will be a great blow to the sport of cycling. But it may be a greater blow to cancer patients, and anyone who ever took inspiration from his remarkable comeback from what looked to be a certain death sentence.

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