Cycling legend branded a drugs ‘kingpin’
In a damning report, Lance Armstrong has been accused of leading the most sophisticated sports doping programme ever. Is this cycling and charity icon a fallen hero?
He was an international legend: a seven-time Tour de France winner and tireless charity campaigner, who survived cancer to become one of the greatest cyclists in the world.
Today, he is labelled a serial cheat, who lied for years to lead ‘the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen.’
A US Anti-Doping Agency report, released on Wednesday, has devastated Lance Armstrong’s reputation. It paints the star, who fervently maintains his innocence, as a doper and a bully: a man who forced his fellow cyclists to follow an illegal regime of drugs.
‘It was not enough’ the report says, ‘that his teammates give maximum effort on the bike. They also had to adhere to the doping programme outlined for them, or be replaced.’
For Armstrong’s supporters, the report – dubbed ‘cycling’s equivalent of War and Peace’ makes horrifying reading. It contains 1,000 pages of test results, correspondence, and receipts for over $1 million paid by Armstrong to Michael Ferrari, a doctor disgraced for doping.
Testimonies from Armstrong’s teammates – many of whom doped themselves – describe him undergoing illegal blood transfusions in hotel bathrooms, rubbing a mixture of testosterone and olive oil onto his body, and taking EPO, which increases the number of oxygen-carrying red blood cells.
Despite the evidence, Armstrong insists he is innocent. He has long been locked in a legal battle with USADA, but in August announced he would stop fighting doping accusations to concentrate on his high-profile charity Livestrong, which has raised over $500 million for people with cancer.
The scandal, however, does not stop at Armstrong. The report also shows that in the high-stakes cycling world, doping was the norm: between 1999 and 2005, 20 out of the 21 Tour de France Podium finishers were linked to drugs.
‘We all made this mistake, it wasn’t just Lance Armstrong,’ his former teammate, Tyler Hamilton said. ‘He was part of it, it was a dark period of cycling that we all went through. The doctors, the riders had been doing those things for years.’
Given these sordid circumstances, is it unfair to demonise Armstrong? Cyclists who doped, it seems, were just conforming to the culture of the time – taking their cues, as everyone does, from the morals and standards of their surroundings. Institutional corruption is to blame for this affair – not Armstrong himself.
But what about personal accountability? Even if it was accepted, cheating is wrong, and illegal too. If Armstrong turned his back on honest sport, he did so willingly. Those who doped cannot use circumstance as an excuse, they must take responsibility for their bad decisions.
- If you were in Lance Armstrong’s position, early in his career, do you think you would dope?
- What do you think is worse: cheating by using drugs, or refusing to admit it?
- Imagine the doping claims are true, and that Lance Armstrong has chosen to admit to them publicly. Write a statement in his voice, accepting responsibility.
- Think of a time when people might cite something like peer pressure, or the idea that something was accepted, as an excuse for doing something bad. In groups, discuss whether you think the plea is legitimate.
Some People Say...
“Lance Armstrong is still a hero.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- So is everyone doping in sport?
- Those going into sport today will probably not be exposed to doping in the same way cyclists were ten years ago. After a series of scandals, drug testing is now stringent across all sports, and high-profile figures like Bradley Wiggins have helped make cheating unacceptable at the highest levels.
- What if the drugs are just undetected?
- That is a problem. There is potentially a lot of money in the doping industry, so it is possible that scientists are developing drugs that are more difficult to detect.
- And what is Armstrong going to do now?
- His only reaction was a tweet, that simply said: ‘What am I doing tonight? Hanging with my family, unaffected, and thinking about this,’ with a link to a Livestrong event that is taking place later this month.
- Tour de France
- Probably the world’s most famous cycling race, the Tour de France takes place over 21 days every year. The route takes teams of road cyclists through varied terrain around France, including punishing mountainous sections in the Alps.
- US Anti-Doping Agency
- USADA is the national anti-doping agency in the United States. It is a not-for-profit, non-governmental organisation, though it is partly funded by the US taxpayer. Lance Armstrong’s lawyers have accused the USADA of treating him as a scapegoat, and ruining his reputation because of a personal grudge.
- War and Peace
- This famous 19th century novel, by Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, tells the story of five families living through the French invasion of Russia. It is well-known for being a very long and difficult read.
- Blood transfusions
- To increase their red blood cells, athletes can extract an amount of their own blood, then re-infuse it shortly before, or during a competition. This increases the amount of oxygen that can be carried in a riders’ blood – and comes with the added benefit of being very difficult to detect. It is also illegal.
- The Lance Armstrong Foundation, or Livestrong, is dedicated to helping and empowering cancer survivors and their families. It was set up in 1997 by Lance Armstrong, who survived testicular cancer that had spread to his brain and lungs, giving him a 50% chance of pulling through.
- Podium finishers
- The first, second and third highest scoring riders across the whole Tour de France have a place on the podium.