By: Chuck Cipione
Alright guys, time to talk about steroids. Yes it is indeed the most controversial issue in sports today is back again in dramatic fashion. Performance enhancing drugs have been taking up a big chunk of the national news machine recently and are not failing to bring up the regular questions of morality, fairness, and cheating that follow the topic like a roaming pack of ravenous dogs. We are all aware of the dangerous cocktail that’s created when PED’s mix with professional sports and as we speak a fellow Texan is the Ace of Spades in the USADA’s most wanted deck. When this story broke it must’ve caught every sports fan in America, heck even worldwide, totally off guard. It’s hard to believe, but it really happened. Recently Golden Boy Lance Armstrong’s 16-year pro cycling career, one that earned seven-Tour de France titles, is in severe danger of being flushed down the toilet.
Lance Armstrong was the undisputed poster-boy of American cycling and the singular best athlete in the history of his sport, but it’s officially time to reconsider folks. I know, I don’t want to deal with the mental torture of a complete polar reversal of a hero’s image either, but the facts are already out there and we must. Ok, here’s what we know, last June the USADA accused Armstrong of testing positive for a drug called EPO, the drug boosts the amount of red blood cells and is also known as “blood doping”, and other forms of steroids too. Hindsight is always 20/20, but it seems foolish now that we ever believed Lance’s feats were drug free. Unfortunately that’s not all, it gets much worse. Putting steroids in your own body is one thing, but our boy Lance is accused of putting them in others people’s too; he allegedly ran the biggest doping network in history, Heisenberg style! There’s even a rumor that Armstrong and his teammates created a song to the tune of Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze that replaced references to Jimi’s drugs of choice with the cyclist’s favorite, EPO. If that is true, besides adding a bit of humor to this mess also adds severe character questions as well. But how did he fool us all for so long? The fact that he did is nearly as impressive as what he did on a bike. I still don’t want to lose Armstrong in this mess, his former teammates think differently though, as nearly all of them have thrown Lance under the bus in attempts to salvage what they can for themselves. The whole ordeal seems surreal, like a bad dream. Back in reality the USADA came to a verdict stripping Armstrong of his seven Tour titles, a decision which Lance decided not to appeal. Technically the USADA is not in charge of that decision though, but his decision not to appeal was viewed as an admission of guilt by the French Cycling Federation. So there you go, kiss those awards goodbye as if they never happened.
So what happens to Mr. Armstrong, who has now won as many Tour titles as the rest of us? Well, first off his character, accomplishments, and legacy will be thrown in the sports garbage can alongside highly regarded athletes such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, those evil Commie Eastern Bloc Olympic teams, and so many other athletes that suffered the same fate. Additionally he will be ineligible to compete in any sporting event that follows the World Anti-Doping Code, which means things like Ironman triathlons and other endurance competitions.
I want to blame everyone but the man who is ultimately responsible. How did coaches and officials allow the free trade of illegal drugs during competitions? How did Lance’s failed drug tests not come to light until recently? Why do they have to erase a sports legend from history? Well I don’t know, but I do know that cycling is the dirtiest sport in the world in terms of steroid use. There is little doubt in my mind that the number of professional cyclists using some sort of PED is much closer to 100% than it is to 50 or even 70%. The amount of athletes that are testing positive in this niche sport is absolutely astronomical, which makes me wonder what the motive was behind continuing this investigation two years removed from his last Tour appearance. Riding for a government sponsored team (US Postal Service) for the bulk of his career could’ve spurred it, but in an event where 20 of the previous 21 riders that reached the podium have been caught doping one way or another one might think the sport could use a “clean” spokesperson or role model for appearance, even if that man cheated in reality. Tour cyclists continue to pass these drug tests during and before competition only to be caught in further investigations later. Note Floyd Landis, another American, was stripped of his 2007 title after testing positive for synthetic testosterone. These occurrences are all too common and bring into question the methods of testing, or that the so called “bad guys” are smart enough to stay about twenty steps ahead of the authorities. If these medical sports specialists are able to outsmart drug tests so easily it also makes me wonder how seriously the big wigs behind the scenes actually care. This is a tragic story that’s stolen a local hero from us in the middle of the night and made us all a little more cynical at the same time. The only way I can deal with this devastating story is to take some advice from another known drug user and think to myself, “That’s the way cycling go.”