Lance Armstrong Admits to Doping

lance armstrong_resizeLance Armstrong is a liar and a bully, but is he a cheat?

He looked deep into Oprah’s eyes and admitted candidly that  he used EPO, transfusions and testosterone.  He said it with a straight face, as only a person raised in the American media generation can do.  He said it sincerely, and he omitted so much of the truth that nothing he said could be taken seriously, but still, he leaves behind him the unending question: what exactly is cheating?

Two of the things Armstrong admitted using — EPO and transfusions — increase the body’s ability to use oxygen.  EPO increases the red cell count in the blood, while transfusions, or blood doping, provide extra red cells by direct injection.

Now, as we all know, the Kenyans and the Moroccans are wonderful long-distance runners because, among other things, they grew up at high altitudes.

Any athlete who can afford to take a year out and live in the Atlas Mountains of North Africa, or the Kenyan highlands, will develop a far higher red cell count than someone who trains at sea level, and that athlete will have a natural advantage over a competitor who couldn’t afford the high-altitude year out.

Is that an unfair advantage?  Is that cheating?

If I play it straight, avoid EPO and steroids, but I can afford a hypobaric chamber while you can’t, is that an unfair adbvantage?

I don’t know.

What I do know is that money will buy you an advantage, so what precisely is cheating?




27 thoughts on “Lance Armstrong Admits to Doping

  1. I know you find it off-putting a bit Bock, but I’ll just say it the once – in Olympic target shooting, it’s the person with the highest degree of self-control who wins, not the guy or girl with the best chemist.

    Maybe that’s the wave of the future for sports – moving away from being the best at something that you need a genetic advantage to be the best at (long distance running, cycling, etc), where it’s all about power or speed; and moving towards sports where your degree of success reflects how much actual work went into your training (shooting, archery, golf, judo, karate, etc).

    Or we could just say “ah, feck it anyway” to the old-fashioned notion of athletes being role models to kids and acting like it — I mean, at least one comedian has pointed out that these drugs let a 30-something-year-old win the tour de france against much younger people after having a testicle removed… so the real question is why the feck aren’t we all taking these drugs after age 30? :D

  2. I’m not sure what point you’re making. By definition, the discussion is about athletic sports, not activities like target shooting.

  3. Bock, this isn’t a metaphysical or philosophical issue. The rules are there; he broke them in order to win. If that’s not cheating, what is?

    You can argue over the offside rule in soccar, about whether it should or should not be allowed, or how perhaps lanky or short players can take advantage of it. But if you actually start hanging around the goalie during matches looking for easier scores, you are in fact “cheating” under the current rules.

    The alternative to rules is called “making it up as you go along”(Cheaters wouldn’t play the likes of Calvinball) . And we all know who’ll be the ones making it up if we switch to that system.

  4. In answer to your specific question, by definition cheating happens when someone breaks the rules.

    But breaking the rules can be financially lucrative so the incentive to cheat will remain. Armstrong probably looked at this as business first, sport second.

    I’d say change the rules and allow chemicals etc, and we can amuse ourselves speculating about their doping strategies as well as their performance. Sponsors and investors might flinch, and the amount of money flowing in reduce, but at least it’d be more honest from a spectator perspective.

    Or, why not have two tiers – one where drugs are allowed and another where it’s clean. Athletes start at the clean end, and either optionally make a one-way move to the drugs zone if they want to, or are heavily fined and transferred if found to have dabbled.

    That could also be quite interesting from a research/guinea pig angle. How did Armstrong perform when he was clean, compared to later results on various substances? The answers to those sorts of questions could be of greater benefit to mankind than watching someone whizz over a line on a bike.

    Probably 1am cynicism, but maybe some merit too?

  5. What you suggest makes a lot of sense, apart from the two-tier competition. Obviously, the drug-free tier will be dominated by people using drugs.

  6. I understand the discussion and the argument but my opinion is he cheated.
    If all the riders were clean including armstrong, would he have been so successful, we will never know. He did use drugs to boost his performance and saying lots of others were doing is no defense, a bit like a looter saying they are not guilty because lots of other people were looting also.

    In regards to high altitude training, I think there is a difference, money might get you to the peruvian mountains but only your own hard work and effort will get you up and down the mountain, it isn’t as if you just go to the mountains and hang out drinking good coffee and relaxing in a hammock will make you a better athlete.

    But in my opinion the armstrong story is less to do with his use of drugs and more to do with the way he went after people that said he did, by his own admission he doesn’t know off the top of his head how many people he sued but he didn’t just sue people, he tried to break people financially and personally, in short he tried to ruin people for saying he used drugs to win races.

  7. Hello all, I think Jay’s summation says it as it is. Armstrong’s use of banned substances gives him an unfair advantage over the other close contenders. It is a game changer. We can but speculate what on might have been, had the field been level.
    I saw a red top headline today telling him to shove his apology where the sun don’t shine. It maybe that the aggressive litigious stance he took in the past betrays him as somebody not-very-nice, and the dishonesty of it all sorta’ compounds the cheating somehow. Put me in mind of Edwina Currie threatening anyone who suggested she and Major were making the beast with two backs, at the very time when they were.
    Just not very nice people.
    Now I must offer my apologies, to Bock for straying off topic, and to everyone for any mental image generated.
    Mea culpa, Mea culpa, Mea maxima culpa.

  8. In the case of Edwina Currie I think performance enchaning drugs would be required and permissible, along with a blindfold maybe even 2 blindfolds.

  9. Good piece. Lance was still an amazing athlete. As regards cheating, in Ireland, cheaters are admired. Remember Sheridan rolling over the goal line to cheat Louth out of a Leinster title? The brassed neck cheater even later claimed it was legit and the gpa had him as VIP to meet the queen.
    Funny, the same bogballers that defend him have terrible bile for lance. That’s why my kids play rugby and soccer, more honesty in non irish games. ‘Cept the eldest just got into cycling and wants to know what Epo is!

  10. Oh god no, I couldn’t go through all that parenting lark then see the kids row in with the bogball bigots. Scratch below the surface and you get intolerance, racism, rampant cheating, general incompetence and gombeenism very quickly. I’m trying to teach them fair play and winning-at-all-costs isn’t everything.

    Besides, as the great homer (simpson) said:

    Kids are great.. You can teach them to hate the things you hate and they practically raise themselves now-a-days, you know, with the internet and all.

  11. Intolerance, racism, interesting that one who has issues with intolerance and racism would then tar with the one brush an entire organization that has over 1000000 members who love to play and watch Gaelic games and on top of it proceed to call them all bog ball bigots. How does this work, Im confused? Okay…What if I was you and one of my sons goes to college and falls for a camogie player from Thomastown Co Kilkenny whose family are steeped in the GAA. Will he then be sleeping with the enemy? Will he be allowed go to her matches or will I have my own version of Rule 42 that I’ve taught him by heart and he ll just know inherently to stay away from her? Actually Ju know what I don t want to know how it works..Ill just leave him make up his own mind like my Da did for me, that way he ll be doing things based on his own needs and not mine and of course he ll also get that wonderful feeling that a child gets when they feel their parents trust their judgement and I’ll feel good about that too. See my way is a win/win situation but not at all costs. Think about it…..

  12. Cheat means to deceive or defraud.
    Tierry Henry cheated when he handled the ball, Neill Back did it and just about every
    Munster dummy runner is doing it when they are in front of the ball and obstructing a defender. In short gaining an advantage by breaking the rules is to cheat.
    Fascist rugby cynics say it’s not cheating if your not caught. So because nobody
    murdered Jean McConville because nobody was caught.
    Personally I like a spliff before I play tournament chess, it helps me relax – others prefer
    a pint. Am I a chess cheat? – it’s not against FIDE rules.

  13. I don’t know much about these things, but surely having a spliff before a chess match is giving the other guy an advantage. Is it anti-cheating?

  14. I’m not sure what point you’re making. By definition, the discussion is about athletic sports, not activities like target shooting.

    (1) The point I was making was fairly clear – that this idea that sports where the fastest or strongest win are now basicly about who has the better chemist or who can sneak electric motors into a bike frame better; while sports where the person with the most control wins just don’t have any drugs you can take and get away with.

    (2) Come say target shooting’s not a sport after you’ve tried it :) Until then, just remember that it’s one of the largest sports in the world by participation, one of the oldest Olympic sports in the modern games, and one of the few where people can compete shoulder-to-shoulder regardless of age or gender.

    @mark. 2 words. Beta blockers.

    Have to be taken on the day and are easily detectable.
    So far, we don’t have a problem with them (or any other drug).

  15. To cheat is to deceive.
    To deceive is to hoodwink.
    To hoodwink is to doublecross.
    To double-cross is to play false.
    To play false is to fool.
    Perhaps we live in a world of fools?

  16. When I’m writing the cheque for kids’ activities my definition is “It’s not a sport unless you’re sweating” :) Baseball parents didn’t like me.

  17. But is it a sport if you need a chemist to win? :P

    Me, I think if it takes training to do it well, if it’s an activity that is primarily a physical one (every sport has a mental component, but if the core actions themselves – running, kicking, whatever – are physical) and there’s a ranking system, then it’s sport.

    But, tongue out of cheek, if we’re worrying about what our kids learn looking at the people at the top of the sport, then maybe the pure power/speed sports aren’t the things we should be promoting so much to those kids? I mean, if more than half the job of the sports officials is to try to catch the dopers, we’re not really doing sport anymore, but applied covert chemistry, and then feck it, why not just sit the kids down to watch Breaking Bad and be done with it?

  18. Kid’s role models should be their parents. That can be a scary concept when you look around the PTA room though.
    Apparently mine will grow up to be swearing sailors

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