Lancing the Boil? I Don’t Think So
This whole Lance Armstrong situation with his alleged PED use is getting much attention and I was going to write something about it yesterday when the USADA released the dirt it had on Lance Armstrong. The fallout from that report has been far reaching, and once again cycling is embroiled in a scandal about performance enhancing drugs. What’s even more dramatic is how Lance Armstrong has had his seven Tour de France wins taken away from him in the record books, although you wonder if the guys who came second in those races automaitcally get declared winners; and whether they’re going to get their big recognition in a group presentation event. I doubt they’ll do that.
As with all these things, it’s all circumstantial evidence, but a good mountain-load of it; meanwhile Lance Armstrong has quit the sport and won’t address the issue at all. We can only conclude from this that he probably did PEDs, and now he’s going to play the plausible deniability strategy right down to the line of utter, abject, total, improbability. You can only wish him luck in trying to persuade the world. Cycling is consequently in another one of its terrible turmoils, but in some ways this is no different to Major League Baseball. You could argue that at least the cheats are getting caught, even if it’s too late.
I might have blogged this a long while ago, maybe in one of the earlier incarnations of this blog, but I’m basically a great sceptic when it comes to sports and the record book. I have no choice, given the times I have lived in.
It started with Ben Johnson at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, and since then there have been a great deal many names who have been outed and hounded. Yet, Ben Johnson’s record stood unofficially for many years until quite recently when Usain Bolt started running amazing times. Carl Lewis ended up with the gold medal from Seoul in that event as Ben Johnson was disqualified, but years later, Carl Lewis himself was linked to to PEDs. More recently, Car Lewis has cast aspersions on the Jamaican sprint team suggesting they were doping in an elaborate manner. If you said that Carl Lewis’ suspicions were credible, it would mean that Ben Johnson’s time in Seoul can only be beaten with more PEDs. And that’s just one example of how vexing the record book has become.
After Ben Johnson in 1988, I came to the conclusion that the PED problem was a problem of technological advancement, and that as new drugs were developed, there would have to be ever mew ways of testing for them. Whatever the case, no record book was going to be safe. I imagined a world where some sports would simply smash record after record with PEDs, while others stayed relatively inert, and with little excitement surrounding them.
Of course, the way this played out in the 1990s was that Major League Baseball’s players embraced PEDs, giving rise to amazing historic seasons by the likes of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds, all on the backs of PEDs. After a long dearth, suddenly these hitters were producing seasons that matched or broke the feats of Babe Ruth’s greatest season. It was unthinkable if you exercised a rational statistical analysis, but suddenly McGwire and Bonds were not only smashing past Ruth’s single season mark of 60 homeruns in 154 games AND Roger Maris’ mark of 61 homeruns in 164games, they were posting 70+ homeruns.
Then, in the 2000s, they were all found out. Some said the record books were tainted, others argued that the record books were already tainted by ‘Greenies’ (amphetamines) in the 1950s and 1960s. It was worth asking, even if only rhetorically, what the hell did all of this mean? Consider for the moment that 3 out of the 4 members of the 40HR-40SB in a single season club Barry Bonds Jose Canseco, Alex Rodriguez were linked to steroids in their careers. The fourth member is Alfonso Soriano, and who knows if he was on PEDs that year that he accomplished the feat? It may come out yet.
And in some ways, this is the exact crux of the biscuit that Ben Johnson sits on in Seoul 1988, and Lance Armstrong with his 7 Tour de France wins, and the 70 McGwire homeruns and the 73 Bonds homeruns, and whoever else that won on the back of PEDs and got found out. The feats themselves cannot be undone. As per the joke, you cannot unfuck the goat. We may never know about Usain Bolt, but if we ever find out that he used PEDs, then it’s him on the same crux of the biscuit as Ben Johnson.So now, Usain Bolt is in PED purgatory with Alfonso Soriano and other record-setting athletes. Is it even fair that they get suspected?
What can these accomplishments possibly mean? If Lance Armstrong didn’t really win those 7 Tour de Frances because he was on PEDs, then what can it possibly mean to win the Tour de France?
It’s a mess – And we’re doomed to go through this again, some way down the track. Somebody is going to invent something that will enhance performances, and it will slip through the testing net; and as long as it’s there slipping through, we’ll never be sure that hat we’re seeing is what we think we are seeing in sport. The old adage used to be that only the sport scores were the unvarnished truth and facts reported in the newspaper. We find ourselves that even that is no longer true. It’s a fine mess.
So back to this Lance Armstrong thing. I can’t offer up anything for fans of cycling as to how to digest this fact. Armstrong was on PEDs, and he did it so well and systematically, he never got caught red handed. By doing so, he won an un-Godly 7 Tour de France titles – and that is likely so off the charts that you will never witness that again if you lived to 100 in the absence of PEDs. It’s so off the charts that even a non-cycling fan like me knew about it. It’s going to take a long time to digest and understand what exactly all that means in the sport of cycling. I sure as hell don’t know what to make of all these steroid tainted records I witnessed in the making. If there is one bit of advice I have, it is this: no amount of moralising is going to make this reality better. That much is most certainly sure.