Even if there has been no trial, there is usually a point when the mounting body of evidence against an athlete results in “controversial” being placed in front of his government name.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet controversial cyclist Lance Armstrong.
The seven-time Tour de France winner, cancer survivor and worldwide icon, in case you missed it, has been buried, again, under an avalanche of drug doping allegations by former teammates.
Tyler Hamilton, during his own admission of drug transgressions, told 60 Minutes over the weekend that he saw Armstrong use endurance-enhancing EPO, testosterone and other banned substances to help achieve cycling superstardom. CBS also reported that it had obtained grand jury testimony from teammate and close Armstrong friend George Hincapie in which he is alleged to have said the he and Armstrong supplied each other with EPO and discussed having used testosterone and other banned substances in preparation for races.
Even before these most recent accusations, Armstrong has been dogged by doping suspicions. Former teammate Floyd Landis, stripped of his 2006 Tour de France trophy after a failed test, has also accused Armstrong and other top American riders of using performance enhancers. Armstrong’s former team, U.S. Postal Service, is under federal investigation as a result of Landis’ statements.
In his defense, Armstrong has never failed a sanctioned drug test that we know about, so he has to be viewed as still innocent. Conversely, nobody seems to give any credence to sports drug testing — it is mostly seen as a canard – as it applies to uncovering the use of performance enhancers.
The walls appear to be closing in on Armstrong, and it looks as if yet another American sports icon is walking that thin line where his incredible athletic accomplishments face potentially being scrubbed forever.
Armstrong appears to be receiving a pass from the media on this one, and this should be the case until the man gets a fair trial. For all we know, he may never come before a jury. However, this is in stark contrast to the treatment former sprinter Marion Jones received in the time leading up to her eventual conviction for lying to federal investigators when she denied using performance enhancing drugs in 2007.
Perhaps it is because track and field, despite its relatively low-level recognition in American sports until we are in an Olympic year, is still viewed as a higher- interest sport than cycling that Jones’ case appeared to garner more headlines that Armstrong’s.
But long before Jones was able to deliver her weepy-eyed courtroom confession that drugs had played a role in her attaining three Olympic gold medals and two bronze medals, news outlets across the land — just as they did with Barry Bonds — had long since thrown the book at her.
But track and field, particularly the sprints and the explosive events — tailor made for the use of performance enhancers – have always captured the truncated attention span of Americans. We have always been fascinated by finding out who the fastest person in the world — male or female — is at 100 meters.
So when Canadian Ben Johnson briefly held the title of world’s fastest man before a failed drug test at the 1988 Olympics determined that he had cheated his way to victory, we forever more became fixated on drugs and the role they play in track and field.
But why was Jones convicted so prematurely? Shouldn’t we be in the same frame of mind with the Armstrong allegations? Before he has been brought to trial — a trial that most feel will certainly happen — his teammates from the tight fraternity of cycling have already lobbed guilty bombs at him.
There is a double-standard here for sure. It existed, painfully so, back in September of 1998. When Florence Griffith-Joyner died at 38, there was carelessly open and utterly unfounded media speculation that she achieved her records — she still has covered 100 and 200 meters faster than any woman in history — with the help of performance enhancers. Turns out Griffith-Joyner died of epilepsy.
There were no former teammates doing 60 Minutes saying they had seen her use or used drugs with her. While she has been dead for more than 12 years, the speculation continues.
That’s ok. It is what it is. But what also might be the case is that someday Armstrong, who has issued denial after denial, will be forced to sit in a court room and testify under oath about his involvement or lack thereof in the drug culture that permeates cycling.
But until that day comes, he will continue to get his pass from the majority of his enablers in the media.