Lance Armstrong, seven-time Tour de France winner, will confess he used performance enhancing drugs tonight to Oprah Winfrey (9pm on OWN), an interview which will be touted as, perhaps, the most anticipated in recent television history.
I love media and hype, the promotion of sport and the athletes who excel at it. I do not like frenzied anticipation leading up to an athlete’s criminal confession. Criminals, particularly those who rise to cultural icon status, should be diminished, their voices lowered to a muted, weak whisper.
Lance Armstrong cheated to win. Cheating is theft. Armstrong stole from those who could’ve won honestly, cleanly, based on their work and sacfrice. I understand the sport of cycling is culturally corrupt, that 90% of pro cyclists cheated, that the one clean athlete who should’ve won was likely at the back of the pack, or home, retired in abject frustration, a casualty of a sport infected with a win at all costs and keep the governing body’s name in a positive light philosophy. None of that matters. Armstrong stole the victories. Thieves should do jail time. Moreover, until we hold hormonally and synthetically fake heros accountable with the threat of prison time, this will continue.
The casualties laid waste behind cheaters, behind the thieves, are many, the personal anguish very real. I’ve witnessed athletes on the side of the pool deck after an international swimming competition, their bodies blotchy red, chests heaving after they’d exhausted every ounce of soul and energy. I’ve watched them watching another athlete, smiling, arms raised in victory, their muscles bulging. You know when you know — they’re cheaters — and sometimes they’re caught, but it is never enough.
Thankfully, I never knowingly suffered competing against a cheater. However, I do experience what I call doping collateral damage. Out at dinner or at party with new friends, even now, two decades past my Olympics, the gold medal will be brought up. The new person will smile, offer a polite congratulations, but as time wears on conversation and questions will swing around to doping, cheating, and finally…Is it in your sport? More often than not, I’m asked point-blank, Did you cheat? Sadly, it is asked so matter of factly, it’s clear the person believes that in the modern age of sport, you have to cheat to win. In moments like those, particularly when I was younger, I wanted to reach across the table and take their heads off. Now it just hurts.
Armstrong will surely be leveled with civil lawsuits. They’re already in the pipeline. His history of mafia-style hush tactics are well documented in the media. The victims’ pursuit of justice, even if it’s only financial, will perpetuate this sad story.
One throughline of the Armstrong saga is positive. Travis Tygart, USADA’s chief executive, is emerging as a hero. In his CBS “60 Minutes” profile (Jan 8th, 2013), he took host Scott Pelley through his own personal struggle, detailing how the closed-door federal grand jury failed, how he had to pick up the pieces of the investigation and fight to move it forward. In many ways, he was risking USADA’s entire reputation. Armstrong, as noted above, is a formidable adversary. Here’s a brief excerpt from Pelley’s interview:
PELLEY: Was Lance Armstrong personally involved in intimidating these other riders to keep them quiet?
TYGART: He was. It was tough. All — all these witnesses were — were scared of the repercussions of them simply telling the truth.
PELLEY: What could Lance Armstrong do to them?
TYGART: Incinerate them.
As an athlete I was annoyed when I had to do doping tests, hated waiting around after a competition to give a urine speciman. Now I’m so proud I was a part of it, proud of USADA, and proud Travis Tygart has prevailed.
If you’re an Olympian who is retired, an Olympic peer, it’s time to support USADA. If you don’t think it’s neccessary, know this: Armstrong tried to make a substantial donation while he was competing, a blatant conflict of interest that Tygart did not accept. Tygart’s a good man and deserves our support. You can support USADA here.
VIDEO OF TYGART EXPLAINING THE ARMSTRONG OFFER TO USADA: