Lance Armstrong: He’s Not Dope for Doping

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J. Villegas/MCT

Reese Levine, Editor-in-Chief

Last month, Lance Armstrong gave up his career-long fight against doping allegations, deciding not to proceed to arbitration with the U.S Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), which had accused Armstrong of an elaborate conspiracy of doping during his professional cycling career.  Although the full truth about his actions will never come out, this is the best situation for Armstrong, the sport of cycling, and all of the people who rely on his foundation, Livestrong.

Before winning a record seven Tour de Frances, Armstrong was a known name in the cycling world. He was World Champion in 1993 and won many European races, including two stages in the Tour de France. But to the casual American sports fan, Armstrong is remembered as the man who came back from beating cancer to achieve unmatched heights as an athlete.

Inevitably, with great success comes increased scrutiny. During his career he was tested over 500 times by doping authorities and was subject to negative and suspicious articles in the press, especially in France. After he retired from the sport of cycling for good in January 2011, he was investigated first by the federal government, and most recently by USADA.

Eventually, Armstrong felt he had had enough. In the press release announcing his decision to not contest the USADA charges, Armstrong said, “I refuse to participate in a process that is so one-sided and unfair…I will no longer address this issue, regardless of the circumstances.”

Nowhere in this statement did Armstrong say he had ever cheated by doping, evoking consternation from his detractors and sighs of relief from those who have supported him throughout the years. Nevertheless, USADA took his decision to not fight the charges as an admission of guilt, and promptly banned him for life.

Although now impossible to prove, the chance that Armstrong doped at some point in his career is very high. He raced in a period where tests for EPO and blood transfusions were almost non-existent, and dozens of his competitors have either been caught or admitted to doping during the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Armstrong made a smart decision by stopping his fight against his accusers. Not only have his major sponsors, including Nike, stuck with him, but he has also been called a martyr of an unfair system, with lawmakers and famous figures standing up for him. Even more revealing, donations to his cancer fighting organization, Livestrong, were 25 times higher on the day following his announcement.

An example of this is another cyclist, Floyd Landis, who after professing his innocence for a long time, even writing a book supporting his claims, admitted to doping. He lost credibility with his followers and has had to repay back thousands of dollars to people who contributed to his Floyd Fairness Fund.

Cycling has always struggled with its image due to the multitude of doping scandals in the past decades. For its greatest champion to come out and admit to cheating would present another obstacle in the sport’s effort to move forward from its troubled past. The reality is that cycling has one of the most comprehensive systems to detect cheaters of any sport, and the athletes today are much cleaner than their predecessors.

Those who stand to lose the most from an admission of guilt by Armstrong are the beneficiaries of Livestrong. Founded in 1997 after Armstrong’s recovery from testicular cancer, this organization has fought to help those affected by the disease. Today, the names of Armstrong and Livestrong are synonymous, and the downfall of one would damage the other.