Watching Bill Burr‘s hysterical bit on the Conan O’Brien show four years ago when he dissected Oprah‘s big reveal interview with Lance Armstrong – during which the disgraced Tour de France cyclist finally copped to the drug use that everyone had suspected for years – it dawned on me, if Lance was always assumed to be guilty though he passed every drug test, why hasn’t the public made the same assumption about the biggest names in athletics? Or maybe they have.
I’m not suggesting anything, just wondering out loud how the public mind works. (Really, this is just an excuse to post Bill Burr’s take on Oprah and Lance, which is funny and insightful at the same time, no easy task.)
So let’s look at the situation with athletics, especially in light of German ARD TV‘s recent investigation alleging the IOC covered up positive Jamaican test results from the 2008 Olympics in Beijing where the sprint juggernaut won eleven medals.
First, both cycling and athletics have been awash in performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) for years, to the gills. And while people all around them get popped, the top guy who produces historic performances continues to sail along testing clean while whooping all the dirty boys.
That was the glory for Lance, right, how the one clean guy who had overcome cancer was able to beat all the drugged up guys. Isn’t that Usain Bolt, minus the cancer? Or is the difference in public outlook simply a matter of personality?
Rumors kept swirling around Lance for years, but he just kept defiantly denying, denying, denying, while attacking anyone who suggested otherwise. At the same time he kept passing all the tests, though, as it turns out, those tests were looking for drugs Lance wasn’t taking. That guy was always one bike-length ahead of the gendarmes.
Maybe that is one of the two main differences between Lance and Usain, there haven’t been any such consistent rumors around Bolt, even though some two dozen Jamaican athletes have either been suspended for drug use, publicly admitted doing it, been found to have done it by a court of law, or been suspended for failing to submit to mandatory testing (per my Wikipedia research). And list that includes a handful of headliners like Johan Blake, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Asafa Powell, and Sherone Simpson.
Just this January Bolt was stripped of one of his Beijing 2008 gold medals when Nesta Carter, who ran the opening leg on the winning Jamaican 4 X 100m team, was netted after a reanalysis of urine and blood samples.
Yet the public remains four-square behind Bolt even as they assume everyone else is probably not so innocent. Why? Because he was a child prodigy who showed extraordinary powers from the age of 15, and just kept going? Then what about Marion Jones? Wasn’t that who she was? Because, unlike Lance, but more like Shaq, Usain has been the ultimate athlete-jester who the entire world adopted like a fuzzy-wuzzy living sports mascot? Ain’t no one filled the role of athlete-jester quite like Bolt before, though Dwight Stones, recently departed Brian Oldfield, and more recently Maurice Green had their moments. But none of those guys ever had the entire sport resting on his shoulders.
That’s all the sport of athletics would need, right, for the likes of Bolt to get taken down. As if this sport isn’t already in a world of shite. And the word buzzing around is that another big time failure is about to be dropped that will sink this sport even lower than it is today. No, not Bolt.
So, please Usain, I know you are scheduled to retire after the London World Championships this summer, but for heaven sake, whatever you do, get out clean so we can pretend this once honorable sport still has a modicum of integrity as it gets passed on to the next generation. Wonder what Bill Burr makes of it all?