I will not elaborate too much in this post on my thoughts about Lance Armstrong as a champion (let alone a True Champion) or even a great athlete, other than to say that I cannot…no, will not, put the terms “great athlete” and any athlete, no matter what sport, who “cheats,” in the same sentence (lest it is to detail the idea that they are not such).
You see, if one has not “played” by the rules, then one has not truly “played” the game and, thus, cannot be considered “great.”
That is, unless, the rules applied didn’t hold any logic. And, in the case of illegal PED’s and practices, the “rules” doping agencies go by make perfect sense. I am in full agreement with the USADA and their quest to rid sports of “cheats.”
However, the title of this post implies something different than the direction given in the above paragraphs. What I would like to discuss here has to do with the justification some give that Armstrong, regardless of his doping and scandalous behavior, is still a great athlete because “everyone” was cheating, thus, creating an even playing field.
First, whether it was just Armstrong and his team or many others, as I indicated earlier…if one does not play the game by the rules, one has not really played the game and any outcome is null and void. And that goes even if, in reality, ALL cheated; so null and void would mean leaving a black hole in history as if the race had never been run.
Second, once someone travels (or many travel) down the path of illegal PED use, they enter into a circumstance where their chemical biology changes…it becomes different. This effectively changes the “game” from a biological standpoint and an even playing field becomes impossible. It now develops into a battle between who has the best chemist and chemical combinations rather than an individual’s athleticism, work ethic, commitment to excellence, discipline, ability to set proper priorities, and a host of other intrinsic qualities that bring respect to what it takes to be a great athlete.
Now I am not saying that an athlete can use illegal PED’s and not need to apply those other intrinsic qualities just referenced, but that their “use” effectively takes those with similar talents and inner qualities completely out of the game. Simply put, they cannot compete with the user, and because of this the “game” (race) itself also changes.
And third, it is utterly ridiculous to me to state as an absolute that ALL who raced when Armstrong competed were using. That statement is likened to what I’ve heard from some high school teens, that ALL high school athletes party and drink on the weekends (even though they signed an athletic code), or that ALL teens engage in sexual activity, when, in fact, neither is true.
Simply put, all (an absolute) do not engage in those above-mentioned activities. Even though there may be a good number who do, to use that justification as reasoning that it’s OK, or in the case of illegal PED use that the number of users levels the playing field, is simply a false premise at best. It just does not hold up under deeper scrutiny.
One example of those who chose not to use was indicated in my post USADA Releases Evidence of Armstrong’s Misdeeds…Still Many Skeptics—Scott Mercier. If you read through his story you will surely notice that rather than cheat…Scott chose to leave the sport.
However, that is not the only option. In a recent article at thejournaltimes.com, two-time Olympic Cyclist Erin Mirabella reveals her frustrations with having to compete with dopers all while choosing to stay clean.
In her piece, Cycling’s doping problem: a clean athlete’s perspective, Mirabella discusses her dream of becoming a world champion and/or winning an Olympic Gold Medal in cycling only to have her times compared to drug cheats. As she puts it:
“I’m sure most people are thinking that I didn’t have to race against these guys directly, so why am I so up in arms; their choices didn’t directly affect me. But they did! The results they got while they were doping were the results that I was compared to. The year after the 2000 Olympic Games, when a very high member of USA Cycling told me “You just aren’t a world-class athlete,” it was because my results and times were being compared to those of athletes who were doping. Every time they raised the bar with their superhuman results, it made it harder for the clean athletes like me to receive financial support from USA Cycling and the United States Olympic Committee, because all funding is based
on results and medals.”
And just as telling:
“I spent years training, sacrificing and busting my butt despite the unfair playing field.”
“Regardless of my placing I wanted to have a personal best race at the Olympics; I couldn’t mask for anything more. The chance to find out where I really stood was stolen from me by every athlete who chose to dope. They talk about the sport they love breaking their hearts, well my heart was broken over and over again by athletes just like them” [the cheaters].
So if Erin Mirabella chose to continue racing even though she knew there were dopers in the mix, and as she infers in one of the quotes above that the cheaters “made it harder for the clean athletes like me,” I am sure there were others during the Lance Armstrong time frame that also made the non-doping choice. Usually absolutes like all or none, as in all cheat or none cheat, don’t seem to hold much truth when it really comes down to what is fact.
And it is for this reason, along with the other two I mentioned above, that I simply cannot buy into the idea that Lance Armstrong would even be considered a great athlete in light of the evidence available. As a former athlete, coach, and parent of athletes, I simply can’t even entertain the notion.