When the Black Sox scandal erupted in 1919, the betrayal felt by a sports-loving public could not have been said any better than by that young boy who begged, “Say it ain’t so, Joe.” It was a plea from the heart of a fan to Shoeless Joe Jackson to say that he did not cheat in the game.
And sports have had its share of cheaters since then. Baseball pitchers would treat the ball, batters would cork the bat, hockey players would use sticks with illegal curvatures, boxers would wear padded gloves, and so on and so forth. But somehow, none of these can be regarded on the same level as illegal drugs.
Baseball has had its share of it, including would have been Hall of Famers like Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. But none of them were as pathological and cunning as Lance Armstrong.
Armstrong started competing at the age of 12 when he participated in age-group swimming contests. He quickly quit the sport when he learned of the triathlon. He won the Iron Kids Triathlon when he was 13.
He was considered the best 19-and-under triathlete, so much so that his points total was greater than five professional triathletes. He turned pro when he was 16 and was national sprint-course triathlon champion from 1989 to 1990.
Two years later, he turned to cycling when he joined the Motorola Cycling Team. In 1993, he won a stage in the Tour de France for the first time. He retired after stage 12, however, and he finished 97th overall.
After winning several tours in the United States, he finally won one in Europe when he bagged the Clasica de San Sebastian in 1995. He followed it up with overall championships in two successive Tour DuPonts from 1995 to 1996, as well as a stage 12 win in the 1995 Tour de France.
Cancer and Comeback
In October 1996, Armstrong was diagnosed with stage 3 testicular cancer. It spread to his lungs, abdomen and brain. He was coughing up blood and was given less than 40 percent chance of survival.
Armstrong did survive and was declared cancer-free in February 1997. He then signed a contract with US Postal Service for $200,000 annually. And the deal paid off almost immediately. He finished fourth in the 1998 Vuelta a Espana, before winning the big one in 1999 when he was declared Tour de France champion. He won for seven consecutive years until 2005, when he retired for the first time.
He made a comeback in 2009 as a member of Astana and he finished third. A year later, he moved to Team RadioShack, but he only finished in 23rd place. This prompted him to announce that it was his last tour. He retired for good in February 2011.
Through all this success, there has always been a cloud of doubt brought about by persistent allegations of the use of illegal drugs and subsequent cover-ups. But you still have to wonder if there is any truth to it, given the fact that Armstrong is one of the most tested athletes in the world. He has never failed a single test out of the 600 administered over his entire career. He even went through 24 unannounced tests made by different anti-doping agencies. He even had the gall to post the results of his supposed blood tests online.
Yet, it was hard to believe that many people whose only common thing in life is a relationship with Armstrong would suddenly conspire and accuse him of drug use. Steve Swart said he and the entire Motorola team, including Armstrong, began using drugs in 1995. This was around the same time that Armstrong started working with Michele Ferrari, a controversial trainer who was once convicted of abuse of the medical profession. He was banned from working with cyclists, but Armstrong was spotted with Ferrari as recent as 2010.
Betsy and Frankie Andreu, a former teammate, also testified that Armstrong admitted to his physician the use of EPO, steroids, cortisone, testosterone and growth hormone in 1996 after he had brain surgery. Greg LeMond caught Stephanie McIlvain, Armstrong’s contact with Oakley, on tape admitting that she heard the same conversation.
Michael Ashenden testified that Armstrong’s blood levels in 1999 were consistent with a series of injections. It was the same year that Armstrong had a spat with fellow rider Christophe Bassons, who had made allegations of doping among cyclists.
That same year, Armstrong was caught using coricosteroid. Emma O’ Reilly, Armstrong’s masseuse, testified that a doctor issued pre-dated prescriptions to justify its use. She also testified to disposing used syringes and picking up strange parcels. She also applied makeup to conceal needle marks in Armstrong’s arms.
Mike Anderson, a personal assistant, also testified to finding a box of androstenone in Armstrong’s apartment in Spain. It was not in the list of banned substances, however.
Tyler Hamilton, a former teammate, said that he took EPO with Armstrong before and during the Tour de France in 1999, 2000 and 2001. This was confirmed by other teammates like Andreu and George Hincapie. Floyd Landis, another teammate, testified of doping in 2002 and 2003. One of Armstrong’s test even came out as positive, but Hein Verbruggen, the president of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) at that time, was bribed to keep things quiet. In 2010, the UCI admitted that Armstrong did make a $25,000 donation in 2002 that was used by the juniors anti-doping program. This was followed up by $100,000 more in 2005 that was used to buy a blood-testing machine.
In 2005, the French newspaper L’ Equipe reported that new tests conducted on 1999 urine samples had tested positive for EPO. Armstrong was given the chance to have it retested, but he refused.
US federal prosecutors investigated all these allegations but dropped the criminal investigation without any charges. The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) persisted and finally got enough witnesses and samples to charge Armstrong with doping and trafficking. He did not contest the charge and eventually admitted to doping during an interview with Oprah Winfrey in January 2013.
Armstrong is now being investigated for obstruction, witness tampering and intimidation.
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