Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Lance Armstrong: The Ongoing Controversy

I've wanted to write about this for a very long time.  What finally kicked me into gear was the fact that I knew I had to answer a very important question in my mind.  Did Lance dope or didn't he?  The article published in this month's edition of Bicycling Magazine, written by Bill Strickland, was written for me I think.  The thing I loved most about this article was the passion pouring out of Strickland.  He talks about how he's finally come to terms with the fact that Lance probably doped to win the Tour.  He also tells us how much pain and sadness that realization brought him.  I can relate 100%.

Back in May 2010 Floyd Landis, former teammate of Armstrong's, made some quite shocking allegations about Lance.  A few months after the allegations were made Floyd sat down with Paul Kimmage for an interview. In that interview Landis claims that Lance not only doped, but led the doping program for the team.  These allegations are not the first made against Lance.

For many reasons, I had a hard time accepting the fact that Lance doped.  Armstrong was both the most inspirational while controversial superstar athlete the United States ever produced.  I want to believe in that.  I want to look at someone I've admired for years and say, "You beat the odds.  Good night... you beat the freaking odds."

So why does it break my heart so much to even think about Lance doping much less accept that he did?  He’s not only a superstar in the sports world.  He's not just a guy who rode a bike beautifully and did things on that bike that we thought impossible.  He’s not a name everyone knows only for his talent on a bike.  He’s an inspiration to millions of people around the world.  He gives hope to those who think they have none. He's much more than an athlete.  He has become a belief system, a matter of faith.

How can we sit here and continue to believe that Lance didn’t dope?  Is he that much of a freak of nature that he can beat out all of the other admitted and proven cheaters?  As much as it pains me to say this, and mind you this is the first time I’ve admitted it to myself, I just don’t see how it’s possible.  My heart literally breaks to say that.  I hope that I'm proven wrong.  I hope he's never doped a day in his life.  Do I think that's possible?  No.  Does that mean I’m going to stop admiring Lance for what he’s done for cancer and the sport of cycling?  Never.  To be honest, if it weren’t for Lance it might have taken me another 10 years to get into cycling.  

Regarding the article I mentioned earlier by Bill Strickland, he says numerous things that hit a chord with me.  "Doubt would never be enough for me to accuse Armstrong; devotion would never be enough for me to absolve him.  I became an agnostic."  He continues, "Can you imagine that?  A 46-year-old guy all twisted up because of the ugly way a cyclist did beautiful things on a bike?"  This is the part of the article that ate at me.  He put my exact feelings into words.  Maybe I shouldn't be so emotional about a topic that hardly effects me.  I simply can't help it.  I can relate to Strickland.  We both didn't want to believe that Lance had doped.  However, when looking at all of the stats, all of the confessed dopers he out raced, how can we remain agnostic?  We'd be lying to ourselves.

Jeffrey Notvizky has been conducting an ongoing investigation for that last few months concerning Lance.  He's digging quite deep.  I believe if there's anything to find, Novitzky will find it.  The French Anti-Doping Agency, AFLD, will hand over all evidence that could help lead to a conclusion in the doping investigation against Lance.  The head of the AFLD, Pierre Bordry said, “If the U.S. attorneys and the U.S. Agency ask us for something in the context of a judicial mutual assistance, we will of course do so.”  Another person from the AFLD said that the agency would share "everything we know, everything we have, in the fridges, in the freezers, everything, everywhere.” He added that they are prepared to answer "everything that the [U.S. Agency] asks.”  That's pretty great cooperation for Novitzky to have if he's going to get anywhere in his investigation.

Lance Armstrong’s comments about the ongoing investigation?  "I can't control what goes on in regards to the investigation. That's why I hire people to help me with that. I just keep rolling right along."

If we’re going to point out the negatives, we need to point out the positives.  There isn’t a lot of information in Lance’s favor.  I’ll be honest.  However, the biggest thing in an investigation is still missing… proof.  He never failed a drug test that they can convict him of.  If his urine and blood samples from previous years are tested again with new tests and some of those come up with positives they’ll still never be able to convict him because they can’t gather the B sample that they need.  So I pose the question… where is this investigation going to get us?  As far as I can tell, I think Lance will get right off the hook as he’s been doing for the last 15+ years.  There simply isn’t enough evidence to convict him of doping and quite honestly, I don’t think there ever will be.  Burfoot, an Editor at Runner’s World Magazine said, “Lacking definitive proof of wrong-doing, I continue to believe Lance Armstrong is both a great champion and a great inspiration, but I'm no Pollyanna, and I personally find it difficult to believe Lance could have been so dominant in a sport apparently so riddled with drug users if he hadn't been doping as well.'' Bill Strickland put it beautifully when he wrote, "It's those of us in the middle, the fans, who are stuck trying to make sense of what he's done, trying to decide what to tell our daughters and sons about him, and trying to remember that he must do the same."

 "Great to hear that USADA is investigating the claims. I look forward to being vindicated," Lance said.  He’s pretty confident that he’ll never get caught.  Either that, or he has confidence because he really didn’t dope.  I do know one thing for sure.  Lance will never admit to doping.  Not in a million years.  I don’t care what he’s got up against him.  He’ll never admit it.  If he’s found guilty, he’s denied it too long and has entirely too much pride to give in now.  That's what's wrong with Bill's statement in the previous paragraph.  We might have to explain this to our children, but Lance won't have to.  He'll never admit it.  I think this writer put it best when he wrote, “After all, [Lance] knows better than most that charges or no charges, most minds are already made up when it comes to Lance Edward Armstrong and faith can climb mountains as well as he ever could.”  Regardless of if I believe or not, plenty of people still have faith in Mr. Lance Armstrong.

I want to stress something before I end this post.  I don't hate Lance Armstrong for what he did.  His choices are his alone to deal with.  I will continue to admire him for what he's brought to the world, to cancer, and to the sport of cycling.  Some of my happiest moments watching cycling are from Lance.  2001 Tour de France.  Will we ever forget the way he attacked Ullrich on Le Alpe d'Huez?  I know I won't.  Stage 9 2003 TdF.  I know I won't forget Beloki's awful crash and the way Lance had to off road it.  Those are just two of the many great moments Lance shared with us on the bike.  I will never forget the way he carried himself on the bike.  He may have made stupid decisions but that's not going to make me hold a grudge or stop admiring and looking up to all that he accomplished.  If he hadn't made the decisions he had, maybe he wouldn't have made the difference he's made in the world.  I, for one, am very grateful for the difference he's made. Oh and believe me, I will still tell you to Livestrong.

I want to know your thoughts.  Do you think Lance doped?  If any of you have an opinion on any of this, I want to hear it.

I can't end this post any better than Strickland closed his article.  I stand behind and agree with this statement 100%.  "We live in a different age, one that may not allow the forgiveness of Lance Armstrong, that may hold him to be the creator rather than the product of the era he reigned over.  We might even judge this champion's cheating and lying too vile to permit the remembrance of the part of him that, even now, convinced that he doped to with the Tour, I can't stop being a fan of: the plain fact that he was, as even his bitter enemy Floyd Landis told me when we spoke last year, "a badass on a bike."

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