Whenever Lance Armstrong is mentioned in a conversation the elephant in the room is always performance enhancing drugs. He could be on OLN, or the Jay Leno Show, or on CNN, but I always have this feeling that people are wondering if he was clean when he won the tour a record 7 times.
I’m not sure it really matters. Does it matter to you? It is all just so much water under the bridge now that he has retired. Sure there are lots of people out there who want to knock him of his thrown by proving that he cheated. And I must admit that there is a certain part of me that wants to know the truth. But at the end of the day I really loved watching Lance kick some European Cycling ass…and I’m European.
The fact of the matter is that Lance did something that we all love to see. He beat the European biking elite at their own game, on their own turf, in their most hallowed biking hall…the Tour De France. And that’s the part that the French will never forgive. It would be like a Frenchmen crushing Babe Ruth’s homerun records, or an Italian team winning the Superbowl. Could America ever believe this possible without thinking of some sort of cheating to justify the victory? Could Americans let this stand?
I think the answer is yes. In some ways this continues to separate the New World from the Old World. In America there is a level playing field for immigrants and most Americans still love the underdog. Just because you are from Peoria or Peking does not make you any better or worse in the eyes of the locals. Americans still cheer for the new comers, or at least don’t get in their way when they work hard to realize their American dream.
So if an Italian team did compete in this year’s Superbowl…let’s call them the Linguine Lions. Certainly most Americans would cheer for their home team. But if the Linguine Lions won, I think the Linguine Lions would be accepted, and dare I say it, even embraced.
I was in Lillehammer for the 1994 winter Olympics. What struck me the most was how the Norwegians cheered for every nationality. It didn’t matter if the skier was Russian, French, Italian, or German; they cheered just as hard for all the athletes. This is something that I try to remember every time I race. It doesn’t matter if I’m being passed, or if I’m doing the passing, a word of encouragement to my fellow racers always make me feel good.
I suppose that if you really pressed me on the Lance question, I’d say that in my opinion Lance probably did cheat and he used some sort of performance enhancing drugs. Why? I have four reasons. None of my reasons are scientific, and most are from my gut, so take them with a grain of salt.
Reason # 1
I believe that the sport of professional biking is one of the dirtiest (when it comes to performance enhancing drugs) sports in the world. I have this feeling that we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg. The news is filled with this pro cyclist and that pro getting busted for doping or using some sort of banned substance. Funny thing is they all say the same thing when they are caught with their hand in the steroid jar, “It wasn’t my fault, I must have somehow eaten a tainted food supplement or somehow gotten a bad blood transfusion.”
Reason # 2
I have little or no confidence in the ability of the sanctioning body to police the sport. I recall a surprise police raid on a hotel a few years ago hosing one of the elite cycling teams during one of the big European races. It quickly turned into a sort of Marx Brothers movie with mysterious bags of pills and syringes being thrown out windows and flushed down toilets. This does not speak well for the sanctioning body’s ability to police the problem.
The entire Balco drug scandal that changed the face of American baseball and track and field is a case and point. The only reason we even know about the designer steroid used by many of the top athletes implicated in the scandal is that a used syringe (full of the steroid) was anonymously sent to a testing lab. Until that syringe arrived in the mail, none of the watchdogs even knew that the designer steroid existed. Once again, this speaks volumes about the sanctioning body’s ability to police the sport.
This also brings up an interesting problem. Lance has passed every drug test given to him, but how do they test for a drug they don't even know exists? We can only take Lance at his word.
Did you know that statistically the incident of testicular cancer in the general young male population is extremely low? Yet the incident of testicular cancer in professional young male athletes is extremely high…at least when compared to the general population of young men. Have you ever wondered why this is? Could it have to do with testosterone use or overuse? I’m certainly not a doctor but somebody should look into this smoking gun.
Very successful people tend to be very driven to succeed…no matter what the cost. Just image that you have spent your entire life pursuing one goal. You have worked for this chance to grab the victory, the fame, the money and the success, not to mention the admiration of millions. You find out that the playing field is not all that level. So as you see it, you really only have two choices. You can play by the official rules and most likely lose, or you can play by the rules that everybody else is using and win. Which do you choose? I suspect that most of us would choose winning over losing, riches over rags, and fame over the life of the domestique.
And that’s why I don’t think that it really matters what Lance did or did not do. The fact is that he won 7 times in one of the hardest sporting events on the earth. I believe that he won by playing by the unofficial rules of the game. Are these the rules that everyone uses, I certainly hope so because a large part of me likes to see Lance kick some serious European Cycling ass.
At the same time, it could be that I have been blinded by Lance’s great accomplishments over years. I feel like I owe him so much for the long hours of great OLN entertainment he provided. It was magnificent watching a small-town-boy from Texas conquer the Alps and stamp his authority on the tour year after year.
I loved seeing him dance on his bike as he climbed, while leaving all the others in his dust. It was so terrific to see him crash, get back on his bike, and still win the tour. I had shivers running down my spine when this kid brought up by a struggling single mom took the old school mountain bike way through the field, on that harrowing descent, where others crashed. I had tears in my eyes as he drank the champagne on the last day, of his last tour.
These are some of the greatest sports memories of my generation. So does it really matter if he really cheated? I want to believe that it does not matter…that everything is now just so much water under the bridge. But I can’t help but feeling that the elephant in the room will just not go away.
I sincerely hope that when the matter is final settled and the elephant leaves the room, I can still look back at the Lance years with pride, few tears and smile in my heart.