By Tom Kando
It’s a bit late, but I still want to share my thoughts about one of my great idols - Lance Armstrong:
We have been told by the Dutch press (Telegraaf, NRC-Handelsblad, etc.) and then the American media that the following people are testifying that Lance Armstrong has engaged in doping: Levi Leipheimer, Christian Vande Velde, David Zabriskie, George Hincapie, Tyler Hamilton and Jonathan Vaughters. Five of these men did this year’s Tour de France - the first four as competitors, Vaughters as a team director.
My sympathies remain with Armstrong. I agree with Buzz Bissinger in the Sept. 3 issue of Newsweek: “I Still Believe in Lance Armstrong. To hell with the doping charges. Lance Armstrong performed miracles. Stop tearing down our idols.”
I realize that the argument “what’s the big deal? They all do it anyway” doesn’t hold water.
But that’s not my (only) argument. I am also struck by the following aspects of this case:
1. All the testimonies against Armstrong are plea bargains. The witnesses are making deals with the prosecution (The United States Anti-Doping Agency). They are all guilty of doping themselves. In exchange for their testimony, they got to finish this year’s Tour de France, and they are banned from racing for only 6 months - a slap on the wrist. The Cui Bono principle applies. Who benefits? These “witnesses” are all suspect from the very outset.
2. All testimony against Armstrong is either hearsay or eye-witness evidence. There has never been a single piece of physical evidence against him.
I know, I know. He probably did cheat. I am not that naive. Still, isn’t there something in the Bill of Rights about being innocent until proven guilty? Armstrong does not belong in the same category as Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, Marion Jones, all proven criminals.
3. The intensity, severity and length of the Armstrong investigations are unparalleled. Lance is the most drug tested athlete in the history of the world. He has passed over 500 drug tests and failed none. He has been hounded by the authorities for over thirteen years. The persecution and the prosecution are selective and arbitrary. It brings into question the prosecutors’ motives. Clearly, hauling in the big fish would be a tremendous personal success. This is called discrimination. The action has become a witch hunt.
4. Armstrong’s decision to stop defending himself has been interpreted as an admission of guilt. That’s not necessarily so. He is probably just sick and tired of spending his entire life on this.
5. Both doping and the detection of doping have become high sciences in the last fifteen years. Earlier, professional cyclists also cheated - just more primitively. Many of the great ones from my childhood died prematurely of cancer and other diseases that were probably related to their use of performance-enhancing substances, including the Frenchmen Bobet and Anquetil. In 1967, the British cyclist Tom Simpson died while riding the Tour de France, as a result of the methamphetamines he had taken to improve his performance. Did the great Eddy Merckx cheat? Greg Lemond? Fausto Coppi? We’ll never know.
But all these men’s careers and places in history are safe. No one will tamper with them.
And then came Lance Armstrong, winning an astronomical seven Tour de Frances from 1999 through 2005. His achievement was miraculous, unprecedented, and probably impossible to ever surpass. But unfortunately, Armstrong came too late. Doping and its detection are now allegedly “scientific,”standards have changed, and new quasi-juridical bureaucracies have emerged, needing to justify their existence. Armstrong is being taken down because (1) he was too good, a giant among giants, and (2) his achievements came at the wrong time. Bad luck.
If history ends up being rewritten the way the USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency) intends to re-write it, we have a tragedy on our hands. However, many of us can continue to believe in Lance Armstrong. Hopefully, he will remain the greatest athlete of all times in the hearts and memories of future generations, regardless of the petty bureaucrats’ efforts to assassinate his reputation. leave comment here
By Tom Kando