Category Archives: Cycling

Cultural Differences

No Leaks

It’s been a weird week in Australian sport, what with the big press conference saying ‘This is The Blackest Day in Australian Sport’.

AUSTRALIA’S top sporting codes have been rocked by revelations that organised crime is behind the increasing use of banned performance-enhancing drugs by ”multiple athletes” across sporting codes and possible attempts to fix matches and manipulate betting markets.

The heads of all the main professional and participation sports expressed shock after being briefed on a 12-month investigation by the Australian Crime Commission that found professional sport in Australia was ”highly vulnerable to organised crime infiltration”

The article goes on to say that all of our codes of sport probably have had doping going on. Lance Armstrong’s name came up and some anonymous football player in some code even piped up during the week with an article saying what an edge it was to have the injection.
The declaration sent all these bodies scurrying for cover (how else do you explain the rush to declare “We’re clear!“); and swimmers saying they refused injection in fear it was contaminated with banned substances.

It’s interesting how the sport bodies have responded. the NRL has put together an ‘Integrity Commission‘, which suggests, they’re up to their eyeballs in the doping problem. The Minister for Sport says it’s ‘game over‘ for the cheats, but again you’d expect her to say it without any follow through – what else would we expect a Minister for Sport to say? “We give up?”

The strangest call of them all may be the call to name names mentioned in this one:

The Australian Crime Commission’s chief executive John Lawler hit back on Saturday at critics to clear up ”confusion” as to why he did not name names, given the explosive nature of the allegations.

Mr Lawler said classified strategic assessments had been sent to all police agencies around the country and Commonwealth agencies, which were now responsible for pursuing action.

”Very detailed information, the names of the clubs, the names of all the persons, the details of how, when and why and where, based on the intelligence, the persons suspected, has been provided to the anti-doping agency ASADA and to the police. Particularly the NSW and Victorian police,” he told Fairfax Media.

Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare echoed Mr Lawler’s comments as a number of sporting identities and commentators questioned the investigation and motives behind the report’s release along with its veracity.

Given the nature of the witch hunt that is about to ensue it seems entirely understandable that some people want the messenger shot. But really, with Australia’s insane libel laws, it would a brave ACC CEO who would start naming names. The way this normally goes is through leaks, starting at the biggest names in the various sports.

If this were America, somebody somewhere in the chain of information would leak to the press. After all, tat is how we found out about Barry Bonds and the clear and the cream; Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte using HGH; A-Rod being on some PEDs in his peak years in Texas; and ultimately Lance Armstrong as well. The cross-hairs a re firmly on performance-enhanced athletes now and the witch hunt is in full swing over there.

That such leaks have not happened seems to indicate that the ACC investigation was pretty subtle and went very deep. There also seems to be a cultural difference here as opposed America that the press are not willing to tarnish the names of the stars just yet. It maybe the case that the culture is about to change and professional sport will never again have the cozy relationship with the media as it does now.

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Lance On Oprah

The Confessional Interview

By now, everybody knows Lance Armstrong ‘fessed up to his ‘roiding ways. All bets are on for a flurry of court cases from people chasing their money and dignity. Still, you sort of wonder how the sport stayed so blind for so long.

As I pointed out before, even if they take away his bronze medal from Sydney 2000 and strip him of his 7 Tour de France titles, you’re left with the accomplishment itself; and God only knows who else was doing what for their placings in all those races. There’s simply no undoing this mess.

Although in the bright light of retrospection given his confession, it seems mightily obvious that something was very awry with the sport of cycling if somebody won the Tour 7 times. A cycling athlete once told me that cyclists could be broken into two rough groups: Short guys with lots of torque leading the way through the mountainous terrain and tall guys pumping their way ahead on the flat plains. There really isn’t a cyclist who is at once both tall and short, so it is hard for a cyclist to be dominant over the field – unlike say the way Pete Sampras or Roger Federer towered over their field. The athlete said that it was highly unlikely the same competitor won 2 Tours, let alone twice in a row.

And here we had an individual winning it a record seven times. Even if they strip him of his wins, nobody is ever going to win as many as seven tours without some kind of help. It’s just that kind of sport and that kind of race. So they can strip Armstrong of these honours, but over time I think the seven abandoned results are going to mean something totally different, for, unlike Ben Johnson’s tainted 100m sprint record from Seoul 1988, nobody ‘doing it fair’ is going to go past 7 wins let alone come close.

And there it would sit, in everybody’s consciousness that one time, a man with the help of medical science was able to accomplish the impossible. We may berate him for being a cheat today, but we may well come to a different understanding at some point in the future.

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In The Shadow Of PEDs

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.

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