Reaction to USADA / Lance Armstrong Case

Facebook friend asks: Do I think that Lance’s decision not to fight USADA is an admission of guilt or the action of a man who refuses to fight anymore…

The answer is … I really do not know … But we all speculate right?

What I said:

“Good question. Not a 100% sure. The fight against federal charges figured to be the decisive battle but they dropped the charges, leaving a gaping hole in people’s sense of finality. Fact is, people thought Clemens was definitely guilty and the Feds could not prove it, so they maybe had too much to prove in order to say one way or another. We might say tired, but I’d have to note the expense of fighting … Guilty or not, the cost has to be enormous. Pie in the sky, twinkle-eyed folks will say they’d always fight to clear their name, but when you run through your money (not saying that he has) knowing you could’ve sent your kids to college on what you spent to fight this, might put it into perspective.

All that said, my personal opinion hedges on the testimony of the five who gave deposition in the federal case (where’s wiki leaks when you need them). But, it seems the strategy to not engage USADA keeps that info out of the press, while LA figures on taking the decision to strip the titles to the actual organizations that organize international cycling and the Tour, claiming that the vacating of the titles is out of USADA’s jurisdiction.

What’s most painful to me about all this is that I have to keep living to keep seeing it unfold. An episode of Law and Order CI back in the day meant you’d wait an hour — two tops — to find out what happened (and the criminals always gave it up in the end). But here, there’s rumor, innuendo, sealed testimony, hard-boiled investigators, but no smoking gun.

I have a book on cycling which talks a out performance-enhancement within the history of the sport (YouTube Tom Simpson for a dreadful shot of imagery). But drugs of some sort have always been in the sport. I go on a club ride and hurt myself to death, but I don’t have to do it every day. Meanwhile for these guys, that’s their office. The book goes on to say that like the Mitchell Report (was that what it was called — the official recommendation to Major League Baseball on what to do about performance enhancement in baseball), the best thing to do is ramp up the enforcement and not take too much stake in looking backwards, because it’s a bunch of expense and leaves people wanting.

To read Jonathan Vaughters New York Times opinion article published recently, a lot of people came to cycling innocently enough and soon enough, they are right in there doing the misdeed, because there was professional gain and personal pride, not to mention a living to be lived. If the culture was that the whole peloton is involved, it raises the question of what exactly is fair? And, as for LA, if you compete, and win the TdF with the help of lieutenants who are performance-enhanced (something already proven) to what degree does that infringe on the notion of clean wins?

When I saw in the news that a guy who won the mountain climbing on the NY Gran Fondo (which is a ride, not a race in which the climbs are timed) tested positive for a PED it made me realize just how much is really at stake in having sports be understood to be giving proper results.

I think the positive I can take is that from a sport perspective is that controls HAVE to be in place so that there are no more Festina affairs (Tour de France, 1998) or 70+ home run aberration years (Major League Baseball 2003) and the sports can’t shrug their shoulders as if it’s not their problem.

How’s that for an answer?”

…And to boot: one should read Lance’s website: he has a point. At what point does a win at all cost prosecution risk damaging the system of presumed fairness? And how can, theoretically, USADA claim jurisdiction over the TdF when there are questions regarding that…


2 Percentage Points

I just read Jonathan Vaughters’ opinion article in the New York Times on eliminating doping from sport (specifically cycling) and it’s a good piece.

His point essentially is that systems have to be in place so that most of the competitive field finds it reasonable to abide by the rules. That is a good, sustainable policy in sport, as well as economically-sound approach to governing cycling and other sports, even valuable for heady things like running economies. He maintains that during his racing days, it was far too easy to cheat, actions that provide a gain of what sounds like a measly 2% of performance effort. Per his article, 2% is the difference in the 100-meter dash, turning a 10-second effort into a 9.8 (world-class territory). It takes an Olympic swimmer from first to last, and drops a cyclist from first to 100th (of a 189-person field) in the Tour.

From a purely economic point-of-view, it stands to reason that the proper structures must be created to deny rewards to cheating and they must be solid enough to be independent against the question of morality of the participants in a system without checks and balances. The market can’t always fix itself. It simply cannot be too easy to cheat. We never know who the bad actors are, until they are on the perp walk and, up until then, we take them at their word. High-end athletes must realize this when they make comments, surprised at a skeptical public.

Take Bradley Wiggins’ tirade against Tour reporters some weeks back during the 2012 Tour De France. The exact circumstances aside (maybe the reporter was disrespectful or something), he is not personally to blame for the skepticism that exists, but the fact is that scores and scores of results that have occurred in sport from the past twenty years. Be it track, cycling, baseball and other sports have been reversed or donned with an asterisk, as if the jury of public opinion can disregard them.

Furthermore, Wiggins’ win comes 45 years to the year that Tom Simpson, Britain’s most famous cyclist, died as a result of complications that allege the use of drugs while on The Tour. His Wikipedia page is here So the cynic has room to be cynical and should simply be confronted with the ostensible truth at every reasonable beckoning. I say this because I do know that Wiggins made public statements denouncing doping doping when he left Cofidis after the team was left in a compromising situation as the result of others within the team. But, in the tune-in, tune-out world of fan-dom, if the subject comes up, it needs to be dealt with in “plein-air,” As David Millar did during his stage win. What better stage than to do it as Tour leader?

So it is with short historical memory that some folks, particularly those within their sports, fail to speak up about its past. We, the fans, have been asked to dis-believe too much. It’s perplexing that with the current body of evidence of past failures that many high-profile athletes and figures can be intolerant, moreover dismissive of the media and fans when questions arise about the veracity of results. Yeah, we should, but we can’t dismiss the too-good-to-be-true comeback of Floyd Landis in the 2006 Tour, but it’s like a do-over, right?

Perhaps there was the idyllic notion that we were supposed to consider all sportsmen and women as holding themselves to standards beyond takinf advantage in the same fairy-dust kind of way that market economies are always supposed to work correctly without fail. An economy, without a governor (an active system of fairness) becomes a wasteland, while an overbearing governor lays waste of people’s imagination and the two, while opposites are unquestionably intertwined. It’s key that both sides of such a dynamic push and pull at an accurate level of even-handedness to properly reward fair play.

To look at cycling, perhaps the biggest result in the past ten years is the less evident, less sexy turnaround of the system governing the sport.