Monday, August 27, 2012

Lance Armstrong: Guilty or Not?

Dear Madame L,

I was sad to read that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has imposed on Lance Armstrong a lifetime ban from professional cycling and erased 14 years of his career.

That's supposedly because they have more than 12 witnesses who will testify that they saw Armstrong using performance-enhancing drugs. 

Do you believe this?

Sincerely,

Should I Keep Wearing My Live-Strong Bracelet?


Dear Believer,

Madame L is not very up on bicycling, Lance Armstrong, or the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). But, thanks to your question, she has read a little on the subject of Mr. Armstrong's years-long battle with the USADA. A lot of analytical articles have been published online and in the print media on the subject. Here's one which Madame L found illuminating. 

And, as Madame L followed the lead about the many objections to many in the cycling community to the USADA and its methods in general and its pursuing of Mr. Armstrong in particular,  Madame L is even more inclined to give Mr. Armstrong the benefit of the doubt.

From this article, for example, Madame L learned that even the judge who ruled for the USADA recently objected to some of the USADA's methods, writing, "[T]here are troubling aspects of this case, not least of which is USADA's apparent single-minded determination to force Armstrong to arbitrate the charges against him, in direct conflict with UCI's equally evident desire not to proceed against him." 

The judge also wrote,  "Among the Court's concerns is the fact that USADA has targeted Armstrong for prosecution many years after his alleged doping violations occurred, and intends to consolidate his case with those of several other alleged offenders, including - incredibly - several over whom USA Cycling and USOC apparently have no authority whatsoever. Further, if Armstrong's allegations are true, and USADA is promising lesser sanctions against other allegedly offending riders in exchange for their testimony against Armstrong, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that USADA is motivated more by politics and a desire for media attention than faithful adherence to its obligations to USOC." (Emphasis added by Madame L)

Madame L still doesn't know whether Mr. Armstrong broke the rules or the USADA did. But she also read this article, "The Long Ride," which reports on a journalist's experience with Mr. Armstrong and his team in 2002.

Madame L knows she is naive and too trusting about her heroes, but these two articles make her think Mr. Armstrong is not guilty as charged by the USADA, which is notorious itself for cheating and hounding athletes who don't deserve that treatment.

Here's a bit from "The Long Ride":

   "In all, during those three weeks in July, Armstrong spent eighty-six hours, seventeen minutes, and twenty-eight seconds on the bike. “Lance almost killed himself training for the last Tour,” Bruyneel told me. “This year, he is in even better shape. But the press still wants to talk about drugs.”

   'It is, of course, hard to write about cycling and not discuss performance-enhancing drugs, because at times so many of the leading competitors seem to have used them. Strict testing measures have been in force since 1998, when the Tour was nearly cancelled after an assistant for the Festina team was caught with hundreds of vials of erythropoietin, or EPO, a hormone that can increase the oxygen supply to the blood. But the changes have brought only limited success: just this May, Stefano Garzelli and Gilberto Simoni, two of Europe’s leading cyclists, were forced to withdraw from the Giro d’Italia, Italy’s most important race.

   'Because Armstrong is the best cyclist in the world, there is an assumption among some of those who follow the sport that he, too, must use drugs. Armstrong has never failed a drug test, however, and he may well be the most frequently examined athlete in the history of sports. Whenever he wins a day’s stage, or finishes as one of the top cyclists in a longer race, he is required to provide a urine sample. Like other professionals, Armstrong is also tested randomly throughout the year. (The World Anti-Doping Agency, which regularly tests athletes, has even appeared at his home, in Austin, Texas, at dawn, to demand a urine sample.) Nobody questions Armstrong’s excellence. And yet doubts remain: is he really so gifted that, like Secretariat, he easily dominates even his most talented competitors?

   '“It’s terribly unfair,” Bruyneel told me as we drove through the mountains. “He is already winning, and is extremely fit. Still, people always ask that one question: How can he do this without drugs? I understand why people ask, because our sport has been tainted. But Lance has a different trick, and I have watched him do it now for four years: he just works harder than anyone else alive.”"

Did you catch that last sentence? "But Lance has a different trick...he just works harder than anyone else alive." (Emphasis added by Madame L)

Also, from that article, Madame L was impressed to learn that Mr. Armstrong's heart is almost a third larger than that of an average man and that his resting heartrate is about 32 beats per minute. There are more fascinating details about Mr. Armstrong's upbringing and early life in sports and about how his fight against cancer helped turn him around, the kinds of details that may convince you, too, that he is an honestly exceptional athlete.
 
Madame L recommends highly that you read the whole article. And Madame L is going to fish out her own yellow Live-Strong bracelet which she put away in a drawer somewhere a few years ago when someone gave her a new bracelet, and start wearing it again.

Sincerely,

Madame L
 

1 comment:

Laura "Redial" EllJayPea said...

What a great article! Thanks for posting the link. (I couldn't follow the exact link; I used this one: http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2002/07/15/020715fa_fact1?currentPage=all)

I must confess - I was one of the doubters - not in his greatness or talent, but that one man could do all he has without "help." I have changed my mind now.