Lance Armstrong: Was He Doping or Experimenting with Science?

Pro athletes are human science experiments, pushing their bodies to new limits. But should they be punished for that?

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Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Lance Armstrong rides in a breakaway during Stage 16 of the Tour de France in Pau, France, on July 20, 2010

Lance Armstrong is a great champion. There is no question. The first time I met him in 1991, you could see that the kid had it all: ruthlessness, enormous power and a savage desire to win that was almost frightening in its intensity. All that, and he was always ready with a sound bite. Armstrong was the complete package. And two years later, at age 21, he became the youngest rider in modern history to become the world professional road champion.

We all know the rest of the story. After his bout with cancer in 1996, his recovery and subsequent metamorphosis into a lethal, streamlined Tour de France contender was stunning — as was the new laser-beam focus that earned him the nickname RoboCop in the peloton. The rest of the pros never had a chance.

So now that he has been stripped of his seven Tour de France wins and banned from cycling for the rest of his life by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), we have to ask: Did Lance Armstrong really win all those titles, beat all those other cyclists, endure the unimaginable hardships of long-distance competition just because he’s a cheater?

(MORE: How Lance Armstrong Lost His Seven Tour de France Titles)

On a daily basis, professional athletes are pushed beyond previously imaginable limits. They are human science experiments. The image that the USADA paints of a pristine world of clean sport, tainted by a handful of rogue competitors and their mad-scientist pharmacological enablers, is pure fantasy. A pro’s job is to find the edge, and that edge comes through science — and often, through pushing that science to its limits. Very often those limits are a moving target.

In 1997, the Union Cycliste Internationale ruled to limit racing cyclists’ hematocrit level (the percentage of red blood cells vs. white, which is the fuel that drives endurance sport) to 50%. It was their first attempt at controlling the new science of blood manipulation, which was enabling racers to push themselves harder, longer. Of course, the only thing the new rule did was ensure that pro cyclists had to find a way to reach a hematocrit level of 49.9% exactly, or else quickly become irrelevant and lose their job. No one really had a choice. Every professional sport has a similar story: athletes must stay current with the latest science — and with the latest rules that proscribe its use — or disappear off the stage.

Where does science end and doping begin? Should swallowing a tiny thermometer in a dangerous (yet legal) high-heat technique that forces the body to flood itself with the performance-enhancing hormone EPO — an approach Armstrong pioneered during his comeback — be considered a dastardly attempt to cheat or the cutting edge of scientific progress? (More to the point, was this same technique powerful enough to prompt the spike in his 2009–10 blood profiles that the USADA is touting as its one bit of hard evidence against him?) Could the major scientific advancements in nutrition, recovery and aerodynamics that have allowed Britain’s Team Sky to become a cycling juggernaut in recent years someday be defined as doping?

(PHOTOS: Lance Armstrong: His Career in Sport and Beyond)

Cycling is a 19th century sport that until very recently had little in the way of educated leadership. It is infamous for its primitive brutality. “Boxing meets horse racing” is my favorite description for it. Armstrong went to Europe in 1989 as a 19-year-old and spent the next 15 years conquering that pitiless world. He won his races by being smarter and tougher, training harder, enduring more pain and using science to its limits to improve his performance.

I found it terribly ironic that Armstrong was criticized by the USADA for his “win-at-all-costs mentality,” as that sentiment defines its own approach to his and other cases. Doping is fought through information and education — and yes, of course, enforcement. But scorched-earth tactics and trophy kills won’t fix the issue. The USADA and its cohort, the World Anti-Doping Agency, need to look at the realities of a professional athlete’s world. They must take a good, hard look at their own mission, their own tactics and their own draconian perspective on sport. This public execution of Lance Armstrong gives them a perfect place to begin.

MORE: Why the Wheels Came Off the Lance Armstrong Case 

53 comments
MikeVandy
MikeVandy

Lance Armstrong is an all-time great champion. Unfortunately, it is not possible to explain this to those who would rather just yell "CHEATER, CHEATER"... and stand fast on the argument "The Rules are the Rules". The rules are the rules are the rules are the rules... ad infinitum. 

As to who makes the rules, and why, and how they relate to the customs and culture and reality of professional cycling in the Tour de France... not a peep from the critics of Lance. Apparently, all that matters is to intone "The Rules are the Rules".  Cowardly evasions on part of the mamby-pamby moralizers, who bow to bureaucratic authority, rather than scounge up one ounce of subversive, independent thought. Ya'll make me sick.


Armstong is a champion. He made history. He was glorious. It is a DISGRACE to publicly humiliate a great man. But great men have to be martyred, as society's way to evade the larger reality of why the sport is as it is. This greater reality... the fact that the culture of cycling tends toward endless real pressures to enhance performance in any way possible... is constructed by the money, the fame, the adulation, the media, the race organizers, the teams management, and the broader society obsessed with spectacle. But out of all this complicity, we pluck the individual champion out and torture him for making the only reasonable decision possible. 


Win or go home. That's the only equation in this world. Armstrong won... all you critics should just shut up and go home. It's over. 


Go Lance. Someone out here still loves what you are.


N117NC
N117NC

I can't tell from the article if Eustice (see definition for "has been") has his head buried in the sand while ignoring everything going on around him OR its so far up Armstrong's colon that that he only can repeat the excuses Lance hasn't made public yet.

cogmeister
cogmeister

Wow this has to be THE most creative defense of Armstrong I've read.  The new spin coming out of LiveWrong HQ in Austin? 

"He won his races by being smarter and tougher, training harder, enduring more pain and using science to its limits to improve his performance."  You know the old Nike commercial "What am I on?  I'm on my bike." (and PED's).  Lance wasn't cheating he was testing the limits of science?  LOL, LFMAO, ROFL, HAHAHA....,He broke the rules, he cheated, lied about his PED usage, he's perpetrated the biggest fraud in the history of sport and has made millions off other people's misfortune and likely got cancer in the first place because of his PED usage.  Give it up fanboys, you're hero is a liar and a fraud and did not win the TdF seven times because he's a cheater.And now he's banned from competing in sanctionned marathons and triathlons.  Looks good on him.

TomKellogg
TomKellogg

Lance tested positive twice during his pro racing career and retroactively another five times during that career.  To claim that he was simply taking the current hematocrit limits to their legal limit ignores the fact that at the time he was doing so, EPO was a banned substance.  If he had arrived at 49% using high altitude training only, that was and is still legal.  He wasn't.  He was doping.   And he was helping others do the same.  Time to get with reality.

Eloy Anzola
Eloy Anzola

doping is cheating. cheating is the opposite of sport.

Tobin Henderson
Tobin Henderson

This is the dumbest thing I've ever read.  Cycling is a sport with rules, if you are curious about what constitutes 'doping' as opposed to 'experimentation' all you have to do is read the list of banned substances.

If you do not comply with those rules, you get penalties.  That's how sport works, to do otherwise is cheating.  That is what Lance Armstrong did, and that is what he got.

He did not win "his races by being smarter and tougher, training harder, enduring more

pain and using science to its limits to improve his performance".  He won them by doping more and better than everyone around him.

And now, thankfully, he didn't even do that.  Win, that is.

Geggers
Geggers

Changing the rules and then backdating the results does nothing for the sport. Unless the USADA plans to back-test every rider, and interview every begrudging loser, then how is this comparing apples to apples? What if all the racers are competing at this same level? Pushing the limits is just that. Pushing the limits without exceeding them. Lance is the scapegoat because they've been trying to nail him for years, as the most visible, and they hate to lose. It is a"we win, you lose" moment. Great. Let's ruin cycling appeal even more.

OaklandWasp
OaklandWasp

Anyone familiar with doping, particularly in cycling, knows that passing tests means next to nothing. Whole bus loads of cyclists have admitted they were using, and all the while passing the tests. Armstrong doesn't say he didn't cheat, he says he passed tests. There's a difference.

This is not just about an athlete's reputation. Blood doping has killed cyclists. A bunch of them. And the way cycling has fought back is to try to break the code of silence, and to use prosecutions and sanctions to get at the truth. Cyclists don't want to risk their lives by being pedalling test tubes, as one doper commented. Courageous cyclists have broken that code, and that includes lots of Armstrong's teammates. Note that there aren't many, if any, of them coming forward to defend his assertions. Is everybody who knows him in on the conspiracy to defame poor Lance?

Eustice is saying nothing. He's irresponsible. It's not the USADA, WADA the UCI and others who need to reexamine themselves; it's athlete's who think it's not cheating if they get away with it who have to do so. Promoters like Eustice, team sponsors and other who profit from cycling have to do some reexaming themselves; their conflicts of interest might be blinding them to the fact that they have profited from the cheating. And the consequences are much higher than just cheap trophies.

7worldtraveler
7worldtraveler

He was doping!  Sport has rules.  He broke them.  I'm so sick of these "It's a witchhunt! Waste of money!"  Everybody's doing it!" arguments.  These drugs can be dangerous amp; drug use was rampant in cycling.  It became an arms race-- I must do it because the others are using, the result being an entire sport tainted. 

rory2012
rory2012

Make Armstrong a God,he used his body in the name of Science for drugs.This is the highest moral standard of the US can offer to the world.

ojaidave
ojaidave

USADA is NOT a governmental agency and NOT wasting anyone's tax dollars, as some suggest.  It is is a non-profit, non-governmental agency.  Check it out:  www.usada.org

matt
matt

it still gets funding from the US government and is wasting our tax dollars. 

convinceme
convinceme

If you think ICU should stick with the results of its own and the US federal government's extensive investigations rather than the USADA's compilation of purchased hearsay, sign this petition: http://bit.ly/ICU_Armstrong. It only takes a second.

Next, please share it with friends who also think allowing organizations to destroy people without  actual proof of wrongdoing is not okay.  

Since 1973, over 140 people in the USA have been freed from DEATH ROW thanks to DNA. Most of them were convicted on eyewitness testimony because a prosecutor was convinced the suspect was guilty even in the absence of real evidence.

beaverorduck
beaverorduck

Even if Armstrong did dope - it's not like he turned into Ironman or Spiderman or any other biohero.  He still had to perform, and no one else in cycling has ever accomplished what he did.  

NixBeeman
NixBeeman

Dream on. PEDs give a huge advantage in a sport like cycling. Huge. Difference between first and middle-of pack, or worse. And according to his teammates, Lance was on the cutting edge of doping science, with the best dope doctors. Even larger advantage. 

regsf
regsf

Are you serious? Both Bernard Hinault and Eddy Merckx have much larger win results than Armstrong. Armstrong was a one trick pony. Tour de France.

beaverorduck
beaverorduck

Are you seriously replying to a post I put up a month ago?

PaoloBernasconi
PaoloBernasconi

Like it or not, he is a role model.

You do not survive cancer by cheating your competition.

I couldn't care less whether he did use performance enhancement drugs or not, what I know (I have been active - indirectly -  in cycling for a long time), is that they all do it, I say all of them, including the losers.  If you don't, you don't even come close to compete.

The border between cheating and advance scientific performance enhancement is extremely tiny, the smarter the PhD sport scientist in your team, the less likely you get caught and yet you perform like a machine.

They all did do it to some extent, the bests they all did well behind the legal limit, the smartests didn't get caught cause the science of control is always behind the science of  performance enhancement.

What matters here is that Armstrong did maintain an healthy sport spirit and attitude and body health.  Look at the guy ... beat him if you can, without killing your body.

Barry Bond is a real cheater instead, ... look at him .. grew bigger over time, anyone knows he is a cheat. He loos like a pumped monster machine, with him it's no longer about being sporty, it's about being drugged.

With Armstrong, his role model his still the one of personal sacrifice and dedication to compete/. Cycling is a sport for people who do not shun sufferance. You do not win just because of drugs .. You need to be the best anyway.

He is a role model because he survived cancer, not because he won the Tour 7 times.

What's going here is a personal vendetta from the losers who also did drugs but got caught and or lost anyway.

campirecord
campirecord

There is zero link between cancer and bike racing. Michele Ferrari is a well established repeat offender and a Lance millionaire.

PaoloBernasconi
PaoloBernasconi

there is a lot of a link between being a champion and being a cancer survivor ... in  any case, there is a lot of a link between being a champion caner survivor and a role model.

On top of it, ig you had any idea what cycling  is, you would know it is a sport for people who know hot to suffer.

What matters is that his life is very much a model for fighting uneven odds   and that includes walking the border of legal and illegal performance enhancement.  Just be around cycling for a little bit, then you see what I mean. 

That is where the problem is .. taking down the big name will change nothing. I am nto sure what will frankly

campirecord
campirecord

 It will show millions of young eager cycling teenagers that they have another choice than doping if they want to race their bike. I work on cancer and I am a cyclist, I have never linked any of my bike race to any cancer. One more thing, my patients, most are happy to fight a good fight but there is a shitload of patient out there who just want to go through chemo and go home, they don't give a shit about a fight, a battle or anything. They just want a cure, not some ridiculous pep talk from a private jet corporate financed talking head.

Robert W. Bennett
Robert W. Bennett

I find it interesting that Mr. Eustice never addresses whether he thinks Lance doped or not or whether the evidence being relied upon is in fact reliable.  That's the core issue isn't it?  At least 4 to 5 former teammates of Lance all have made statements (some while under oath) that the team (Postal then Discovery) blood doped.  Are we to believe that these follow riders are all lying?  At the same time, almost ever other big rider out there when lance was winning 7 Tours was hit with failed drug and doping test results and banned for various lengths of time.  The whole thing is just a big corporate  joke at this point.  Team buses should be inspected daily, team doctors and their medical equipment and drug stores should be open to inspection at all times.  Otherwise, the sport of biking will never make it past these dark days of doping. 

bcfred
bcfred

Sounds to me like another example of the athletes (or more accurately their doctors) being ahead of the regulators.  The USPS team was likely doing something, the question is what they mean by 'doping' and whether it was actually illegal at the time.  Sort of like the baseball players hauled in front of Congress.  Why they didn't just say "yes, I used HGH but it was not a banned substance at the time" is beyond me.

ojaidave
ojaidave

Agree.  As an ex-racer who raced in Europe, doping has been endemic.  This is hopefully the final throes of bike racing exorcising its demons.  It is a great sport and the new generation of riders have the ability to clean it up.

sdmtngirl
sdmtngirl

After over 500 drug tests that came up clean how can they take away the titles of a man that obviously won these competitions?  This is more of a personal vendetta than anything else . . . 

ojaidave
ojaidave

There is no support for the "500 tests" other than Lance's PR machine.  This Time article as well is likely part of the next phase of the Lance Inc. PR strategy. 

Commentonitall
Commentonitall

His PR strategy is to stop indulging and be done with it.  Why do you condemn the man when there is no proof but sore losers words?  Obviously you have access to information no one else has that proves Lance is guilty, please share so we can put this all behind us.

idiotsdelight
idiotsdelight

 How about you give me 1 example of a case divulging evidence to the public before the process is complete (remember, we're waiting for Bruyneel's case at the moment)?

Like I said, I'm basing my decision on what we know now, suspect blood profiles, abandoning his defense in the manner he did,  etc. That is a big indicator, to me, amp; admits guilt without admitting guilt. It's the lesser of two evils amp; strategy he can work with.

How long ago? Given that some of the evidence was obtained through the Federal investigation recently, I'm wondering how you expect to expedite a case so quickly? This isn't a 1 hour tv program. The sudden closure of  that Fed investigation is very suspicious as well, as we see LA's gotten other political figures involved,  but that's another can of worms.

You're entitled to your opinion, as am I. I'm content waiting for further proof. In the meantime, from my point of view, he appears guilty.

Also, in response to Kristopher's comment regarding the chorus of  witch hunting amp; wasting tax payer dollars. Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is the 1st time USADA has charged LA with anything. Hardly a witch hunt. And if charging LA was wasting tax payer dollars, I would consider it a waste of tax payer dollars if USADA existed amp; failed to charge him, given the evidence they have. That is their sole purpose - clean sport.

Commentonitall
Commentonitall

If they had all the evidence then they would have released it and nailed him to the wall long ago. You must have some great insider information, of course I doubt you because you fail to offer up any proof other than saying, "you just wait." Now do you have any proof or just speculation because all I see is speculation.

Subject: [timeopinions] Re: Lance Armstrong: Was He Doping or Experimenting with Science?

idiotsdelight
idiotsdelight

 @facebook-506678740:disqus - Keep repeating it, perhaps it'll come true.

Just because the lack of evidence being released doesn't appease you doesn't make him innocent... or guilty. I'm basing my decision on what we do know now, amp; it's not looking good.

When USADA releases all the evidence used to charge him, be prepared to be let down. I don't want you to be caught off guard.

Kristopher Hamlin
Kristopher Hamlin

@ojaidave:disqus  questioning a persons innocence does not make a person guilty.  Hard proof does. USADA never had the hard proof even with the 15 page letter. Secondly I am tired of witch hunt tactics that waste tax payer dollars.  

Commentonitall
Commentonitall

I'm not convinced either way until there is clear and convincing evidence, of which there is not. Subject: [timeopinions] Re: Lance Armstrong: Was He Doping or Experimenting with Science?

ojaidave
ojaidave

I read the 15 page USADA letter sent to Lance.  It is available on the web.  Have you?  Any reasonable person will at least question his innocence after reading it as opposed to being so convinced of his innocence.

Nonaffiliated
Nonaffiliated

 Does it matter?  500, 250, 100...whatever.  He passed EVERY test he was given. 

campirecord
campirecord

 Anybody who knows anything about doping, cycling, the influence of mighty Lance on Herb and McCuaig and the omerta or even just basic phisiology know very well that Lance dopped. Have we been watching the same Tours for 10 years, the attacks going up the clinbs were ridiculously funny... great fun to watch but ridiculous none the less, superhuman... no sport, and especially not cycling were pure mechanical force of grinding a static gear can set appart the top 30 best so much, its just ridiculous.

TJAM12
TJAM12

No, he didn't.

 

'99 Tour - Tested positive for corticosteroids, backdated TUE issued to try and cover it up.

'01 Tour de Suisse - Suspicious result for EPO, covered up by the UCI.

Also, retests of samples from the '99 Tour showed that there were 13 EPO positives out of 87 samples. 6 of those belonged to Armstrong.

He doped. Get over it.

Nonaffiliated
Nonaffiliated

James, you're missing the point.  I said he passed the drug tests.  That should be the end of it.   This idea that you can go back 10 years and change the results based solely on 'witness' accounts is baffling.  Should you go to jail because my 3 friends and I say we saw you commit a crime?  Even though there's no evidence?

Can you imagine if they reversed football matches because some number of players claimed another player cheated?  Without evidence?   Can you imagine overturning a World Cup championship on such charges? 

James O Brien
James O Brien

How can a man win 7 TdeF titles when a lot of the field was doping? Are you telling me that a clean Armstrong is a better cyclist than a doped up Jan Ullrich? Ridiculous. Most of the 100m field could beat Usain Bolt if they were on steroids even though he is the greatest sprinter ever. 

ojaidave
ojaidave

Life is sometime complicated.  Lance can be a "great champion" who also doped.  He can be a "great philanthropist" and also not be a nice person.

All can be true.  His defenders always use the positives to say the negatives don't exist.

campirecord
campirecord

 I think you summed it up right there. Most people cannot mix together one of the biggest dopper and one of the greatest athlete. A well known total asshole to a recognised fund raiser. All of these things can live within the same human. As far as cycling and cycling goes, he doped, the rest, I don't give a rats ass.

I am a cyclist and a cancer scientist, and one thing is certain, I get on the bike to get as far away as possible from work, completely unrelated.

Also, one more thing, Livestrong doesn't give to research, Livestrong is an awarness brand, does a good job but its not a friggin research backing fund.

Mark Robison
Mark Robison

Everyone else was doing the same as Lance Armstrong. So Armstrong became the champion of ‘Cheaters” Still quite an accomplishment.

bcfred
bcfred

The winner attracts the attention.  Contador, Landis...seems pretty much every successful cyclist of the last 15 years has turned out to have walked (or crossed) the same line.  I wonder what would happen if every cyclist was exposed to this level of scrutiny.  My guess?  A five-participant Tour de France.

FTZzz
FTZzz

what would the reaction be if he was from China

Jerome Hilscher
Jerome Hilscher

Did Lance Armstrong really win all those titles, beat all those other cyclists, endure the unimaginable hardships of long-distance competition just because he’s a cheater?

Read more: http://ideas.time.com/2012/08/...

YES - to try and compare nutrition (specifically eating for recovery and post recovery nutrition as used by team sky) and massage and aerodynamics to doping is ludicrous.  You knowingly put something in your body that is illegal = doping.  

DONE - end of discussion.  He admits to doping,  he loses titles,  now, does that lessen what he has done with his charity, his advocacy for cancer research - heavens no.  But to sit up there and say,  hey we need to push the envelope of science and if that means doping a little, well then, by all means let's dope.  What kind of nation are we turning into where we want to cheer a doper?  

Commentonitall
Commentonitall

Please provide your source material where Lance is quoted as having doped.

mmill928
mmill928

 He never admitted to anything, he just decided that the fight wasn't worth it anymore. USADA has been after him for decades, and has never had any concrete proof of anything. He's just tired of them making an example out of him.

Guest
Guest

the usada is the biggest fraud on us sports. and lace will not be stripped of the titles unless the UCI agrees with the USADA

mmill928
mmill928

 Yes, he will. He decided not to pursue arbitration with USADA, and therefore will be stripped of his titles. UCI does whatever USADA says.