Battle with doping has wide-reaching implications
ROME-- Lance Armstrong's admission of guilt got people talking about performance enhancing drugs but other successful athletes likely will be discovered frauds before the storm blows over.
Now, Armstrong has hit out at critics, claiming that he's little more than a scapegoat, just one example of a cheat in the world of professional sports he says is – and always has been – dirty. In an interview with cyclingnews.com, the disgraced rider was his usual bullish self, claiming to be just one of many.
“My generation was no different than any other,”insisted Armstrong, whose success led to a boom for the sport, particularly in the United States. “The 'help' has evolved … from hopping on trains a 100 years ago to EPO now. No generation was exempt or clean.
Not Merckx's, not Hinault's, not LeMond's, not Coppi's, not Gimondi's, not Indurain's, not Anquetil's, not Bartali's, and not mine.”
He also hit out at the Union Cycliste Internationale, which he says was implicit in his years of doping, and its president Pat McQuaid. The Texan called McQuaid “pathetic”, and is adamant that efforts to clean up cycling should have nothing to do with the sport's governing body.
The conversation follows the much-discussed interview that the former Tour de France champion gave to Oprah in January.
Armstrong famously came clean, pun intended, to US television's first lady about his systematic drug use during his time as a professional athlete and is now supporting a truth and reconciliation process that he says should interview anyone who's ever won a major race, regardless of how many years have since past.
The 41-year-old went on to insist that even though he saw himself as a “fall guy” for the entire sport, he wasn't interested in passing the blame or making his crimes seem less serious.
“I'm only interested in owning up to my mistakes,” he said, “I'm a big boy and I'm not in the blame game.”
The interview with Oprah caught the attention of sports fans around the globe, even those not normally interested in cycling.And part of the reason for that is that it now seems more likely than ever that cycling is not alone in having a drugs problem.
Currently, the Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes is on trial, following a lengthy investigation in his country into doping in cycling, codenamed “Operation Puerto.”
Fuentes is an expert on the use of Erythropoietin (EPO), a hormone that controls the production of red blood cells and which can be extremelybeneficial to an athlete as it increases the amount of oxygen theblood can carry, having massive effects on endurance and recoverytimes.
The doctor is actually not being tried for doping specifically, however, but rather endangering lives by practising medicine unsafely because doping was not a crime in Spain until 2006.
He has been titillating prosecutors and sports fans alike by insisting that he didn't only work with cyclists, but regulatory carried out procedures on other sports stars too, including high-profile tennis players and professional footballers.
Speaking to Spanish daily AS outside the court on one of the first days of his trial, Fuentes insisted: “At that
time, I did not work for a cycling team, but with individual sportspeople: an athlete, a footballer, a boxer. In 2006 I worked with sportspeople of all types: footballers, cyclists and athletes.”
Operation Puerto uncovered an extensive doping syndicate, including as many as 200 bags of blood that had been stored around various locations in Madrid. The blood was presumably being used by athletes in a process known as “blood doping”, whereby blood is removed at peak fitness and replaced when an athlete is fatigued to provide a performance boost.
Meanwhile, debate about the prevalence of performance enhancing drugs continues. Even relatively sedate sports like golf has not gone untouched by doping concerns. The game's top brass had been quick to come out and insist that the sport had no dirty secrets, but might now have to change their tune as three-time major winner Vijay Singh has since admitted to using a banned anabolic hormone to increase muscle development.
For many years, cycling has been unable to shake the public perception that it was a dirty sport, but ironically it may now be one of the few sports worldwide doing anything to tackle the problem.
The reason that cycling catches so many dopers, say its proponents, is that it's actually looking for them.
That's because the UCI is one of the few sporting federations to have introduced a biological passport programme, creating an individual record that profiles biological markers collected from testing over a period of time. The passport means that investigators can simply look for anomalies in an athlete's levels rather than searching for tell-tale signs specific drug use. This is key in the fight against doping, because effective tests for new drugs are often only developed years after the substance itself.
As testing improves, sponsors pressure governing body to ensure clean events and the public demands greater scrutiny, we're likely to discover much more about sports dirty secrets. Until then, the sensible conclusion is that no professional athlete in the modern age can exist inside the bubble of their own sport and as such, all are at least susceptible to the attraction of performance enhancing drugs.
Like Fuentes, sports doctors see a variety of patients and if they can improve one's performance – legally or otherwise – then there's a reasonable chance they can apply the
same methods to another, regardless of the sport. So though Armstrong is certainly the most high-profile drugs cheat caught thus far, it seems unlikely that he'll be the last.