Lance says, “Enough”

At what point do ends and means come into conflict with ones such as Lance Armstrong or his obsessive Ahab-like hunter, USADA?  That question surfaced again this past week with the news that Lance Armstrong had decided to give up his legal fight against the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) in light of USADA’s pending arbitration hearing against the seven-time Tour de France champion for his alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs.  In each case, neither side has emerged as a champion.

The undeniable good that Mr. Armstrong has done for the cancer community with his Livestrong Foundation was built on the publicity generated by his seven consecutive Tour de France wins following his recovery from testicular cancer.  It is arguable whether the fame, and therefore fortune, behind the Livestrong movement would have been possible without those victories. Yet notwithstanding USADA’s continued obsession to harpoon what had become its white whale, Mr. Armstrong’s capitulation last week could only be seen as an admission of guilt, no matter how he framed it.

But at the same time, the Armstrong-USADA fight beggars the question, has the goodwill and cancer funding generated by his TDF titles been a worthy enough end to justify the performance-enhancing means that Armstrong all but certainly used to attain them?  Which, in this case, is the lesser of two evils, especially in a culture awash in denial and deception?

We know that the Tour de France organizers will not be announcing newly named winners of those tainted Tours, because it has long been accepted that the vast majority of competitors were no different in their doping than Mr. Armstrong.  What, then, is left as a final consequence?

Just as the War on Drugs has proven to be as abject a failure in society at large – as has been the War on Poverty – are we finally approaching a tipping point in the war on performance enhancing drugs in sport?  No matter the new levels of sophistication in drug detection, with the dawn of genetic modification on the horizon, how much longer can the powers that be hope to keep fair play on a drug-free, much less genetics-free, field when the “Just win, baby” culture keeps driving us toward the cliffs of submission?

Who is at fault? Lance is not the culprit here, certainly not the lone one.  He was just another in the long line of cynics playing the game as  he found it upon arrival.  Neither is USADA CEO Travis Tygart the bad guy.  We are.  We want it both ways, citius, altius, fortius, but pure as the driven snow. We are addicted to sports. Addicted to their champions. Addicted to their records.  And the first thing any addict needs to do is admit the addiction. Fair play is not within the realm of an addict.

Originally, fair play was a concept tied to amateurism which considered sports an activity enjoined and enjoyed for its own sake with proper consideration for fairness, ethics, respect, and a sense of fellowship with one’s competitors.  Some of that ethic still lives, but overwhelmingly it has been abandoned for the hard-headed aspiration of success for its own sake, and competitors beware.

Today, fair play is little more than the attempt to maintain an equitable balance in competitive advantage.  It is only when a select few have an unfair advantage that cheating is in evidence and becomes consequential.  But if everyone is allowed to use whatever means necessary, then fair play has not, in fact, been compromised.  That’s why Lance won those Tours, in one sense, fairly and squarely; the entire elite field was compromised.  It is only by maintaining a policy which can never be attained that sport jeopardizes its public acceptance and continues on its path toward cynical disregard.

Lance Armstrong was the best cyclist of his era with or without drugs.  What we have seen transpire is a public pissing contest between a supremely talented but arrogant athlete and a self-righteously driven public watch-dog.  For Armstrong to obstinately claim he was the sole clean rider besting the top drug-takers when a Pyrenees of proof continued to mount was a category-climb even he could not overcome. That he was an arrogant prick who got under the skin of officials willing to enlist the testimony of anyone just as guilty as their target, was only the predicate for the witch hunt which eventually led to his nolo contendere actions.  Perhaps if he had come clean and admitted that it is impossible to ask athletes to perform tasks that no un-enhanced body could achieve would have altered the outcome or diligence of the quest against him.

In the end, however, it is our own hypocrisy – the drug and financial gain culture pervades every aspect of modern life – that threatens to bring down much more than a single benighted rider.  But we can’t even be honest enough with ourselves to admit it.



  1. A “level playing field” where PED use is condoned because all are drug-enhanced means I have to take drugs to compete.

    No winners in this competition.

    Nice column Toni.

  2. LA was the product of the most advanced doping program of the era. Maybe ever. Having the resources to get around the controls and the attitude to push the envelope with the doping gave him an unfair advantage. In addition, drugs react differently to every person.

    Just because others were doping does not make it a level playing field.

  3. Excuse my rambling , please .
    I knew a couple of massage therapists that worked the tour for years , they worked across teams and off season with individuals , non cyclists as well. They had and have a pretty good understanding of athletes bodies and whats going on in those bodies. When they left to the tour it took a couple of years for them to talk about what the knew was happening and the drug culture of acceptance within the sport of cycling. I asked , do all the athletes do it , take drugs ? Simple answer was yes , “all the athletes we worked on did”. If your riding in the tour and or other events you are on a sponsored team that is funded , you are a contracted athlete , part the team budget is “recovery tools”. To keep up with your training partners and to be able to have a role on the team in competition you dope. Its the culture of the sport good or bad.
    Lance was no different. USADA needed a target , a high profile scapegoat and yes they are government funded. Given budget cutbacks , they have to show they are doing their jobs. Lance ( cycling ) was easy pickings and no other athlete could give the headlines as he would.
    Off the road , his foundation speaks for itself. Its changed and saved lives as it was meant to do.

  4. Wow, Toni you certainly touched several nerves with this posting. For the most part I agree with everything you said (I do question your assertion, as did Joe that Armstrong was the best cyclist of his era with or without drugs. There is, of course, no way to prove that) Your third sentence from the end though did sum it all up brilliantly. Lance had an opportunity to show us all up, to help us understand that when we build people up to inhumanely unattainable heights, when we build pedestals that are so high they’re laughable in the ridiculousness of what they expect those standing on them can ever, ever achieve, we shouldn’t be surprised when those we praise, admire and worship must often use whatever means necessary to reach that pinnacle of impossibility. Had he done that, he would have shown us all that he’s a much more decent, moral and ethical man than he has turned out to be. And perhaps it would have started a, much needed, dialogue about what’s so wrong with our tendencies to admire the idea of winning at all costs.

  5. I belive that most of you are missing the point. Even you Tony. The question is not guilty or not guilty, it is the process in which the “Guilty Verdict” was issued. We have reverted back to the erra of the Mccarthy hearings and Travis Tygart leading the way.

    Steve Foster. Pacific Sport Events

  6. “Lance Armstrong was the best cyclist of his era with or without drugs.”

    The better (richer) you are, the better drugs you have access to. Don’t tell me that someone who has no sponsors and/or money can afford the most technologically advanced drugs out there. They are playing on a uneven field even if everyone is cheating.

  7. “Lance Armstrong was the best cyclist of his era with or without drugs.” This cannot be said. We’ll never know what rider might have dominated but never got the chance because he was unwilling to go the route that so many did. These slaughtered-innocents are one of the victims.

    Along the same lines, there’s no basis, none, for saying the “entire [TdF] field was compromised”.

  8. I must whole-heartedly agree with Richard Infield.

    This situation reminds me of the “A Taste of Armageddon” episode from the original Star Trek television series, where the inhabitants of two planets are at war, and each have huge banks of computers. The one planet’s leader informs Captain Kirk that the two planets have learned to avoid the complete devastation of war because computers are used instead of actual weapons. When a “hit” is scored by one of the planets, the people declared “dead” willingly walk into antimatter chambers and are vaporized.

    My point being, if we drug up, modify their genes, and enhance the athletes’ performance enough, perhaps we could just eliminate the whole athletic competition altogether, and just simulate it on computers. We could have virtual races and track meets, but no one would actually have to sweat. We could just derive the winners from the correct algorithm on the computer.

    I guess what I’m trying to say here is, “If it isn’t real, why bother?”

  9. There will be always cheaters, Tony. It doesn’t depend on time or circumstances. NOW, the problem is now how to find / catch them.

  10. Lance Armstrong & USADA has shown the weaknesses on both sides, but also, our culture’s obsession with sports and winning at all costs. Toni Reavis did a bang up job on this column. I wish I had written it.

  11. Nice blog but it does not attack the underlying issue. To what is it that we aspire? Is it sport addled with drug takers or sport totally free of them?
    Call me old-fashioned but for me it is the latter. Since drug takers are – and always will be – one step ahead of drug testers – the ONLY way to get there is to have the ultimate sanction (disqualification, life-bans etc.) hanging out there for ANYBODY who takes drugs to gain an advantage. In that way, drug cheats can never sleep easy.
    Lance Armstrong wasn’t the only one, sure. But he was the most prominent and the fact that the ultimate sanction has been applied to him will make more people who might otherwise cheat think twice before doing so than if it had happened to some no-name athlete. I have no sympathy for him, or anybody else who cheats to get ahead.

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