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Wild Rumpus Sports

How Lance Armstrong Could Become Relevant Again

With no good response to my brother’s assertion that he could take me on one ski, and not a lot of impressive training to talk about, I thought I would try writing some commentary.

As most of you probably know, Lance Armstrong is going to be interviewed by Oprah next week, and it appears that he is going to admit to doping throughout his career. But I won’t be watching. Mostly because I don’t have a TV, but also because Lance Armstrong just doesn’t matter much anymore.

This isn’t to say that the USADA investigation was a bad idea. I suspect that there were many people like me out there, which is to say many people who understood intellectually that Armstrong and co. were doping but convinced themselves that the Postal/Discovery team was less dirty than the Europeans, and that Armstrong doped as little as possible, that he was an honest guy who maybe cheated just enough to be able to compete.

What the USADA investigation has done is made clear just how absurd this position was. It is clear was watching Armstrong and reading his books that he is not someone who does things halfway. If he had decided to race clean, he would have been trumpeting the importance of preventing doping in sports, naming names of people who doped, and generally crusading against the doping culture of cycling. And–let’s be honest–he would have been ignored and you never would have heard of him. So since he was racing dirty, he was going to do so in the most complete, precise, and scientific way available. Now that we have the USADA report, it is hard to imagine how I ever convinced myself of anything else.

And the clarity and definitiveness of the USADA report make it worthwhile–worth the money, worth arguably violating statutes of limitations, etc. Because no one can pretend that doping was not a central feature of competitive cycling for a very long time.

But cycling is trying hard to move on. We might not know for a while if the current crop of riders is really clean, but the UCI seems to have finally created a cultural shift. And part of that shift is not dwelling on the moral challenges faced by Armstrong and his generation of riders and certainly not celebrating their tainted accomplishments.

But as I said in my headline, there is a way that Armstrong could be relevant again. We know he ran the most sophisticated doping operation ever uncovered, and quite probably ever conceived. And we know that he earned his nickname “Mr. Millimeter.” Which means that he is the best available source on how athletes dope, when, how much, how they avoid getting caught, where the weak links are in the system if they do get caught with a banned substance. Lance Armstrong can redeem himself in my eyes if he goes to USADA, spells out exactly what he did and how he managed to pass his tests, AND THEN offers to dope some more. I want to see Lance–and maybe some of his former teammates–duplicate their training and doping as they prepare for a mock tour. And I want USADA to test them every day, until they find tests that can actually detect all the banned substances they are using. They spent $10 million busting Armstrong, they can spend another $10 million learning how to bust the next guy before he retires. Because one thing the USADA investigation has taught us is that the current testing regime isn’t good enough, and that busting dopers through other means takes too much time and money. Testing needs to be better and smarter, and the best way to make better tests is to have an ex-doper help design them.




  1. So I have had private correspondence from a couple of people saying that USADA doesn’t need better doping tests–USADA, WADA, and federations like UCI need to do their job, test at the right time, and not cover up positive tests. Maybe this is true. But it doesn’t change Armstrong’s ability to be a central player in cleaning things up. That UCI is corrupt isn’t even a question (see, for example, the inclusion of Kierin in the Olympics). Armstrong is very well positioned to expose the depth of that corruption and the extent to which it extends into anti-doping agencies. The bottom line: Armstrong could become an anti-doping crusader, and even though he would be rightly called a hypocrite, this could give him relevance again. Otherwise, I won’t be mentioning him again and I will do my best not to read about him either.