Re: The Cycling discussion thread
Wall of text to follow. You've been warned.
(short version: Armstrong doped. Testing can't keep up with technology and the willingness of athletes to try anything for a competitive edge. I'm not sure how much I care or how much is too much, and that's disheartening.)
Re Armstrong: I'm not the least bit sorry to see the end of him in pro cycling. He'll likely be hanging around the c-level, TMZ regular, celebrity scene for months to come but he won't be intruding into anything I have interest in, making him easy to ignore. Saying he's passed x number of tests is meaningless. So have many other athletes who have gone on to be exposed later or to have admitted without ever receiving a positive.
The biggest drawback, from my perspective, is that the general public (and, importantly, certain sponsors) will look at this development as more evidence that cycling is an unusually dirty sport. I'd like to see the trainers, doctors, team directors and others who enable systematic doping investigated, and I hope that happens, but I don't know how much irreparable damage that would do to cycling's already weak reputation. It won't happen in the higher profile, bigger budget sports, leaving cycling as the scapegoat for a problem that exists across the sporting spectrum.
Why do I say doping is pervasive in pretty well all sports? Because I know the drugs are there. As soon as a young athlete starts showing promise the suggestions to take this or that, just to perk up some, build endurance or put on a little bulk - whichever is/are appropriate to the sport – will start. There's doping at the high school level. Trust me, there are guys and girls on your local basketball teams doping before they reach grade 12.
People on the inside, athletes, trainers, coaches, organizers and even doping experts (both pro and anti doping) know the percentage of competitors on some form of ped sits around 40-50%. Maybe even higher. There have been polls anonymously asking athletes Would you dope to win a medal? or, even more indicative, Would you dope to win if it meant years off your life? and the majority answer "yes". There's a saying along the lines of “If you won't try anything to win, you don't want it enough” and very, very few elite athletes make it to the top disagreeing with that notion.
I love the endurance sports, the speed sports and the strength events. I've been a track and field girl since grade school. I know what I'm watching, and even what I've raced in, are tainted events. In my ideal world, I'd be able to believe in pure human achievement but I'm jaded. I can't. As much as it hurts to admit it, I've come to accept low level doping as part of the game. That ideal level playing field won't ever exist in my lifetime. Science moves too quickly. Sports are money. For every medical advance that cures disease, there’s labs worldwide experimenting with ways to tailor that new knowledge toward performance enhancement and they are being paid huge sums to do it. The genetically engineered athletes are on the horizon, if they aren't here already.
So I watch guys like Armstrong collect ridiculous numbers of wins, athletes run and jump faster and higher year after year, hurl heavy objects across massive distances, swim at amazing speeds and pedal bikes far too fast but have reached a point where I can cheer and be pleased so long as they don't cross the line into ridiculous. It's the hardcore cheats, the ones who are taking it to extremes and everyone up against them knows it, that ruin it for me. You know who they are, they're the folks that other athletes complain about. A pretty good indicator that something's up is when ex-athletes make snide comments on-air in reference to these “wins”. I'm talking about the people who are publicly accused by their peers*, sometimes up to the point of others protesting their inclusion at events, based purely on the fact that they are obviously doped to the gills.
*Unless, of course, we're talking cycling (the much discussed, possibly still enforced omerta) or the big budget sports where almost no one says anything that might have personal professional repercussions.
As far as I'm concerned, someone like Armstrong being taken down has an almost equal amount of good and bad to it, and realizing I feel that way makes me sad. But I also feel a little sad when I see known doped records from the past fall, understanding what that likely implies. I can't help it. At heart, I'll always want 100% clean sport. Nowadays though, it's such a murky business, trying to decide where the line that defines cheating is.
As for what to do about vacated TdF titles, if it does actually come to that – I'd leave them empty. The folks behind Armstrong weren't exactly a collection of the cleanest of the clean either.