Lance Armstrong was my cycling hero. In fact he was a lot of people's hero... we all know the story... the cancer survivor cheats death and comes back to win the Tour De France seven times.
However, we now know a lot more of the story: drugs, lies, cheating, besmirching and ruining people who became a threat to the empire... and in short he plummeted from grace.
I have become a little hett-up about drugs in sport this week. And I have been wanting to write something about drugs in sport but this is purely my take on it! Oh and I need you to read the whole article before passing judgement... this is not just about Lance... its about ALL drugs cheats.
Should Lance be allowed to compete again in any sport?
If you just read the above it is a definitive: NO.
However, perhaps we should consider some other factors...
Lance inspired a generation to get on their bike - many of whom are still riding today... there are companies who made millions from Lance Armstrong's success. Trek would not be the bike company it is today without the publicity it got from Lance winning the Tours is just one example. Lance still holds massive power in the social media world... he is still one of the most popular sporting google searches... he did and still does a substantial amount of charity work... and perhaps cycling wouldn't be as popular today without some of his heroic performances...
In August 2012, Lance, in addition to being stripped of all his results from August 1998, received a lifetime ban from ALL sport as he was seen as the mastermind of "the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen."
Normally there is something called the statute of limitations for doping offenses, which means anything which happened over eight years ago cannot be used to bring disciplinary action. The United States Anti Doping Authority (USADA) report which was published in October 2012 contended that the normal eight-year statute of limitations for doping offenses did not apply because of Armstrong's "fraudulent concealment" of his doping.
So this morning I am reading the news that Anti-Doping Denmark has finally published its report into doping in Danish cycling between 1998 and 2015, revealing that former team manager Bjarne Riis was complicit in a wide-spread doping operation at Team CSC, that included riders’ relationships with Dr Fuentes and his blood doping programme based in Spain.
The report says that Riis, Johnny Weltz, - now a directeur sportif at Cannondale-Garmin, former Riis Cycling Managing Director Alex Pedersen and a number of Danish former riders have all violated applicable anti-doping rules. However due to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s eight-year statute of limitation rule in force at the time, none will face disciplinary action.
So there will be no action taken. Why the massive discrepancy?
How many other high profile athletes from a variety of sports have not received a sanction or have received a similarly small sanction and continue in their sport?
Alberto Contador just won the Giro D'Italia... everyone is gushing about how brilliant he was during the race... how he looks the complete article on a bike... but has everyone forgotten the drugs ban he received in February 2012 and was stripped of his Tour De France win in 2010?
How are Astana even still racing... led by Alexander Vinokourov, who got thrown out of the Tour De France for testing positive in during the 2007 Tour... the whole Astana team then abandoned the race. Four riders received bans during the 2014 season! Did anyone else notice that most of the Astana team suddenly became really strong towards the end of this year's Giro? Can we really believe Vicenzo Niballi won the Tour De France last year clean... no matter how much we want to? I want to, I really really do.
Lets look at The Beautiful Game - Football (that's soccer in this case) which has been openly criticised for not sanctioning players implicated in performance enhancing drug scandals. Operation Puerto (yep the one above) implicated approximately 50 cyclists and 150 sportspersons of other sporting codes, including several "high-profile football players". While the cyclists were named and pursued by the governing bodies of cycling, none of the football players were named or punished for their involvement.
What about athletics?
You have Alberto Salazar, coach to Mo Farah and Galen Rupp (Gold and Silver in 10,000m at London 2012), currently under investigation for doping his athletes... As a Brit who watched that race live on television - I really want to believe... but now there are doubts...
Tyson Gay, cost five teammates — Justin Gatlin (who received a 4 year ban in 2006) among them — their relay silver medals from the London 2012 Olympics because Gay admitted having used before London the banned performance-enhancer for which he later tested positive.
USA Track & Field appointed ex-doper Dennis Mitchell as a coach for one of its international teams. Mitchell and his wife, ex-doper Damu Cherry, coach Kaylin Whitney, 18, the apparent bright new light of U.S. sprinting.
Mitchell also coaches Gatlin!
Gatlin also had trained with Trevor Graham, the coach at the center of the Marion Jones doping affair.
Seven years later, at 33, Gatlin has done his time and is running the fastest times of his life. Really? I want to believe...
Two of the world's leading women's marathoners during the past decade, Liliya Shobukhova of Russia and Rita Jeptoo of Kenya, were busted for doping in 2014.
Russia's track and field federation is becoming snowed under with doping allegations, implicated by a German TV network, the country's supposed anti-doping agency as complicit in the drug use.
The list goes on!
Rugby union - accroding to an article in the Daily Mail - has a doping problem, with one former international coach claiming that there has been ‘institutionalised drug-taking’ since the game turned professional.
- Nick Clancy became the 10th rugby union player in the UK this year to be suspended for doping offences
- Former coach says he walked away from the professional game in disgust at the scale of drug-taking
- Study of South African schoolboy players returned 12 positive tests for anabolic steroids out of just 52 undertaken
Australian Rules Football - Australia's national game
WADA (World Anti Doping Agency) are currently in the process of appealing ASADA's decision to
Essendon chief Paul Little said Wada's actions came as "a surprise". An Australian Football League tribunal had concluded it was not "comfortably satisfied" any player was administered a banned peptide substance.
In 2013, Little's Australian Football League (AFL) team were investigated by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (Asada) into supplements administered to players the previous season.
Essendon were one of two Australian Rules teams along with six top-flight rugby league clubs in the country under scrutiny following a report suggesting doping in sport in Australia.
The club were initially fined Aus $2m (£1m) by the AFL and banned coach James Hird for 12 months following an interim report by Asada that highlighted management failings regarding the possibility that players could have doped.
In 2014, Asada then acted on 34 Essendon players - past and present - it believed were allegedly administered a banned peptide thymosin beta 4, which promotes muscle growth, by Essendon sports scientist Stephen Dank. The players were handed a provisional suspension pending an AFL tribunal.
That tribunal in March 2015 cleared the players, while Asada opted not to appeal against the verdict.
I want to believe... but... I am just not sure...
We are lucky in Triathlon as it is such a young sport. But it is growing. And currently there have not been that many drugs cases. But we are not immune... the lure of bigger money for the professionals and even at age-group level the lure of the coveted Kona slot drugs are seeping in.
In an article written about 12 months ago in one of our magazines there was an anonymous survey done on Ironman Frankfurt where it was revealed 30% of the age-group field were taking substances on the banned list. This is AGE GROUP RACING... when did our sport become so important athletes need to take drugs?
Sadly, there have been cases of pro athletes caught too. Thankfully it is only a small number.
So with most of the names and cases above still competing in sport, I will return to my initial question...
Should Lance Armstrong be allowed to compete in sport?
I believe that Lance should be banned for life - he took drugs. He cheated. He cheated me of my hero. He should be banned for life... but here is the thing:
ALL DRUGS CHEATS SHOULD BE BANNED FOR LIFE.
I want to believe in elite sport. As a sports person I NEED to believe that Bradley Wiggins won the Tour, clean, or he broke the hour record, clean. I need to believe that the winner of the Ironman World Championships is clean. Or the winner of the Olympic Triathlon is clean. I need to believe that heroic human endeavor can conquer the sporting world, clean.
As a coach I want my athletes to aspire to be elite athletes. I do not want them to think that to become an elite athlete they have to take drugs to compete. And so it raises this question:
If Lance Armstrong is NOT allowed to compete in sport why the hell are all these other drugs cheats still competing?
Paul is a British Triathlon Level 3 Coach based in Western Australia. If you are looking for some assistance in your training for 2015 and beyond then check out F4L Triathlon Coaching's website for more information.