Lance Armstrong: Perspective

Imagine working your ass off for years and getting recognized as the best employee in the company. Now imagine being fired the next day. You must be fired, they say, for cheating because no one could achieve so much, and the company doesn’t want anyone to feel bad about their lack of accomplishment.

Now you can imagine Lance Armstrong’s situation. For many, he’s one of the most heroic figures of the 21st century—a modern-day Saint George who both smote his own cancer and raised over a half-billion dollars to help others do the same. To a guy named Travis Tygart, however, Armstrong represents something far more cynical: that crab the rest of us desperately, furiously, do not want to let climb out of the mediocrity bucket.

The Armstrong affair isn’t a battle over drug use in sports, because there is no evidence of drug use in the first place. Tygart, the head of the US Anti-Doping Agency, is attacking exceptionalism. His plan? To strip Armstrong of his awards, his prize money, and his honor. The evidence to support his contentions? For perhaps the first time in history, it’s only the exceptional performance of the athlete himself.

If you’re too good, Tygart—a former mediocre athlete himself—seems to be saying, you must be cheating.

The International Cycling Union (UCI) governs drug testing for the Tour de France, which likely has the most thorough protocols and procedures in the (human) sports world. Athletes are tested during the race itself. They’re also tested during preparation—and blood and urine samples are saved for years after the race to continue testing as new methods of drug detection become available. Despite all this, Armstrong has continued to pass (NOTE: this doesn’t mean that Armstrong is not using PEDs, but it does mean, that by the exact same criteria used to judge all others, the playing field is level).

There’s one thing, however, against which I can’t defend Lance Armstrong. He certainly does, I believe, compete with an unfair advantage over other athletes. Is this EPO? Blood doping? The use of stimulants or steroids? No, because the other athletes are likely on the same synthetic cocktail. It’s something else—something hardwired into his DNA. It hasn’t yet been mentioned, anywhere in any of this, that Armstrong has been the subject of one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies ever conducted on an athlete—a study that provides physical evidence as to why he doesn’t necessarily need drugs to compete at superhuman levels.

For over seven years, researcher Edward Coyle tracked physiological changes in Armstrong’s body—changes that allowed him to continually crush his competition despite their use of performance enhancing drugs (several competitors were punished for drug use over the years, despite failing to beat him in seven Tours). What did Coyle find? Armstrong, in fact, has one of the highest lactic acid thresholds ever recorded (maybe the highest)—a finding that helps explain his phenomenal work capacity[1].

You can never contain the exceptional.

You might be thinking this is unfair because Armstrong was simply born this way, but that’s the all too popular find-an-excuse-to-not-try play. What he accomplished took work. After beating stage III testicular cancer, he still had to develop the potential allowed by his genetics with daily rides lasting 3-6 hours.

And let’s not forget the man behind the medals. Lance Armstrong conquered 7 Tours and a battle with cancer. He started a charitable foundation from scratch to fund cancer research, extending his personal battle into a potential victory for everyone. Even the way Lance Armstrong lives life is exceptional.

Tygart, a man holding a position reserved, theoretically, for someone beyond reproach, can’t comprehend the notion that hard work creates success. Incapable of exceptionalism on his own, he’s chosen to take the leech route, attaching himself to the destruction of someone else’s name, sacrifice, and achievement. Federal judge Sam Sparks, involved on the legal side of Armstrong’s issues, seems to agree. “The USADA’s conduct,” Sparks says, “raises serious questions about whether its real interest in charging Armstrong is to combat doping, or if it is acting according to less noble motives.”

Here in 21st century America, where being exceptional is a criminal act, the American Dream no longer entails achievement. Rather, the idea is now to prevent others from achieving anything so we can all feel special. It’s like that line from the animated Pixar movie The Incredibles: Saying that everyone is special is the same thing as saying no one is.

AUTHOR’S NOTE AND UPDATE: I still stand by my premise when this article was originally written (before anyone knew concretely that Lance Armstrong was, in fact, lying), that it is inexcusable to condemn and prosecute someone when the best available evidence is the athlete’s performance. As the judge in the case seems to agree with me, I do not apologize for my stance that I need evidence before making conclusions.

After working with professional athletes across many sports, I am not naive about the use of performance enhancing drugs and their ubiquity in sports. But if any other athlete were prosecuted solely because they were so good, I hold to the same level of behaviour that we are mandated to uphold as part of our basic freedoms: We are innocent until proven guilty. In this instance, Armstrong gave us the proof of guilt after the fact.

 

Featured Image by: ctbehrens 

 

References:

  1. Coyle EF. Improved muscular efficiency displayed as Tour de France champion matures. J Appl Physiol. 2005 Jun;98(6):2191-6.

 

  • Joshua

    I don’t want to make this political, but the whole things strikes me as something out of an Ayn Rand novel. Tygart sounds like a villain in the Ellsworth Toohey mold. What is he passionate about? Tearing people down. Whether he’s right or wrong, it is obvious that he enjoys trying to bring people down to his level.

  • AdamFiddler

    Kiefer, in the last part of his statement he mentions wanting to prove he’s the fittest 40 year old the planet. Obviously he’s turning his attention to Crossfit?

    • DHKiefer

      CrossFit, obviously, is the only way to be healthy…but CrossFit redefines healthy to mean a sucked-out wreck of humanity (just like they redefine what strength and fitness mean).

  • David

    David Millar never was caught in an anti-doping test during 1995-2004, but he was dopped for years…
    Armstrong was a man that didn’t win next to nothing before cancer, and after the cancer he won 7 tours. During his disease he admitted to have been taken EPO and Testosterone to treat it.
    And he had relations with infamous Dr. Ferrari and spanish doctors who normally used illegal substances.

    Ok, there is no evidence yet. Let’s just wait…

    • Mark Curtis

      Thank you Kiefer!

  • Thomas

    Perhaps instead of Perspective it should have been entitled “Opinion”. I disliked this article but liked the theme and idea.

    • DHKiefer

      Someone’s perspective is their opinion. So thanks and I’m sorry?

      • JS

        “I’m sorry”
        I wouldn’t be. Thomas sounds like a twat.

        • DHKiefer

          I was being facetious. Do you really think me, of all people, would apologize for my opinion?

  • JS

    Great perspective. When I got to the end of the article I cringed a little at the following statement, because I believe that to blame anything other than Mr Tygart shifts the responsibility from him for his own predicament.
    “Well, Mr. Tygart, I hate to tell you, but the only thing making you feel that way is life”

  • Pingback: Stuff you should know 04/09/2012 | A & L Systems()

  • Andreas

    He may have worked hard, but that did other talented people as well. The truth ist, that he cheated on purpose and lied for years about it. So don`t glorify him and his working habits. Ethics count too!

  • http://www.ctmindtraining.com Kai Rawson-Ahern

    I’m not a big commenter, but this article just compelled me to jump into the game because it is so plainly biased that I feel it needs a counterbalance.

    First of all, I like much of what Kiefer writes and I feel he provides a well reasoned perspective and level of scientific rigor on topics of training and nutrition. That is why I am so puzzled by why he seems to have dropped all of those guiding principles for this article…and instead has become a rabid fanboy.

    It is fine for every person to have their opinion, but Kiefer seems to have confused his opinion on Lance Armstrong the man with the facts of the Lance Armstrong doping case. To avoid putting words into anyone’s mouth or taking things too far out of context, I would like to address a few specific points of his article below:

    1. Keifer writes: “The Armstrong affair isn’t a battle over drug use in sports, because
    there is no evidence of drug use in the first place. Tygart, the head of
    the US Anti-Doping Agency, is attacking exceptionalism. His plan? To
    strip Armstrong of his awards, his prize money, and his honor. The
    evidence to support his contentions? For perhaps the first time in
    history, it’s only the exceptional performance of the athlete himself. If you’re too good, Tygart—a former mediocre athlete himself—seems to be saying, you must be cheating.”

    The fact is that there is a ton of evidence of drug use! There are 10 former teammates, some of who were very good friends of Lance, who have testified that he used and helped them procure performance enhancing drugs. Before you say that they are all jealous of his success and are all making this up, consider that George Hincapie, one of Lance’s “most trusted Lieutenants”, and a current friend is one of the witnesses.

    2. Kiefer writes: “The International Cycling Union (UCI) governs drug testing for the
    Tour de France, which likely has the most thorough protocols and
    procedures in the (human) sports world. Athletes are tested during the
    race itself. They’re also tested during preparation—and blood and urine
    samples are saved for years after the race to continue testing as new
    methods of drug detection become available. Despite all this, Armstrong
    has continued to pass with flying colors.”

    I can’t claim to have intimate knowledge of every sport, but I agree that, in general, cycling has better testing than most sports. Certainly better than football and baseball. The thing is, testing in most sports is pisspoor, so to say that just because cycling is more thorough than the other sports does not prove that it meets some independent measure of rigor or perfection. Even so, to claim that Armstrong has “passed with flying colors” is total B.S.! The exact system that Kiefer mentions above, with retroactive testing of old samples as new ones become available, demonstrated that Armstrong used EPO in the 99′ Tour! The only reason he wasn’t banned before was because that retroactive testing was not done in in full compliance with the rules, and due to the checks and balances in the system, that alone was insufficient evidence.

    In addition, he tested positive for cortizone in 98′ if memory serves, and then produced a backdated doctors note excusing his use was medically necessary, for which he was granted a TUE (Therapeutic Use Exemption). He claimed that he was using a cortizone cream for saddle sores, and not for performance enhancement purposes. This will probably be counter intuitive for most of the DH readers, but many pro cyclists use cortizone injections for performance enhancement purposes in longer stage races. If he was indeed using the cream, he was supposed to apply for the TUE in advance, but since he didn’t that resulted in a failed test that was forgiven after the fact.

    He reportedly provided a sample in the 2001 Tour de Suisse that was considered highly suspicious of EPO use, and the lab director has said as much, on the record. There are serious allegations that the UCI covered this up to avoid ruining the image of the “golden boy” of cycling, as Armstrong’s inspiring story was growing the sport like mad for them. In other words, they had a serious conflict of interest.

    There are reportedly other retroactive positive tests which are included in the dossier compiled by the USADA, and which will be made public by the end of the year. We will have to wait and see what they really show, but I think it would be difficult for anyone to consider the above blemishes to be “continuing to pass with flying colors”.

    I would like to add, that as Dave mentions in another comment, there are a bunch of athletes who never failed a test who are confirmed dopers. One being cyclist David Millar, as well as Marion Jones and all of the other people supplied by BALCO. There is no stipulation in the rules that as long as an athlete passes the test, they are considered innocent, regardless of the strength of other evidence. Testing is just one of many methods that anti-doping authorities use to try to catch athletes violating the rules. If you want to redefine sport as a combination athletic/untraceable drug use event, and have the beating the tests become part of the stated challenge, then that would be another matter, but at this point, the stated intent is to have as pure an athletic competition as possible.

    3. Kiefer writes: “There’s one thing, however, against which I can’t defend Lance
    Armstrong. He certainly does, I believe, compete with an unfair
    advantage over other athletes. Is this EPO? Blood doping? The use of
    stimulants or steroids? No, it’s something else—something hardwired into
    his DNA. It hasn’t yet been mentioned, anywhere in any of this, that
    Armstrong has been the subject of one of the most comprehensive
    longitudinal studies ever conducted on an athlete—a study that provides
    physical evidence as to why he doesn’t necessarily need drugs to compete
    at superhuman levels.

    For over seven years, researcher Edward Coyle tracked physiological
    changes in Armstrong’s body—changes that allowed him to continually
    crush his competition despite their use of performance enhancing drugs
    (several competitors were punished for drug use over the years, despite
    failing to beat him in seven Tours). What did Coyle find? Armstrong, in
    fact, has one of the highest lactic acid thresholds ever recorded (maybe
    the highest)—a finding that helps explain his phenomenal work
    capacity[1].”

    I agree that Armstrong is an amazing specimen. I don’t, however, think that simply having a particularly high lactic acid threshold is the sole defining characteristic of a champion cyclist. There are tons of factors that teams test in order to determine the physical talent of a cyclist, VO2 max, peak power output, power to weight ratio, recovery, etc…

    I don’t have testing data to show this, but during the Armstrong era it was frequently stated by cycling commentators that Jan Ullrich, a former tour winner and one of Lance’s biggest competitors, was actually more physically gifted than Lance, but that Lance’s training rigor and mental toughness allowed him to continually beat Jan. I am not saying that I entirely believe this to be true, but only to demonstrate that there is no consensus that Armstrong was substantially more naturally gifted than every other athlete, other than perhaps in a single metric.

    4. Kiefer writes: “You might be thinking this is unfair because Armstrong was simply
    born this way, but that’s the all too popular find-an-excuse-to-not-try
    play. What he accomplished took work. After beating stage III testicular
    cancer, he still had to develop the potential allowed by his genetics
    with daily rides lasting 3-6 hours.”

    I agree with what Kiefer writes above 100%. Lance was not some slacker who won through the use of drugs as a shortcut. What Kiefer misses is the possibility that Lance was such a hard worker with such an extreme drive to win, that he trained the best, ate the best, got the best equipment…..AND used the best performance enhancing drugs!

    5. Kiefer writes: “And let’s not forget the man behind the medals. Lance Armstrong
    conquered 7 Tours and a battle with cancer. He started a charitable
    foundation from scratch to fund cancer research, extending his personal
    battle into a potential victory for everyone. Even the way Lance
    Armstrong lives life is exceptional.”

    I agree with Kiefer, that Armstrong lives life in an exceptional way. He is the only guy ever to win 7 tours, and he did all 7 in a row, after beating cancer! That in a truly amazing story! It doesn’t however mean that he is faultless or beyond reproach. Many people make the mistake of correlating athletic greatness with greatness as a human, but we have seen far too many great athletes caught in scandal to have that correlation hold up.

    Regarding his charitable foundation, I am sure it does a lot of good for people living with cancer. What it does not do, however, is contribute a great deal of money to cancer research. In fact, funding research, for better or worse, is not one of their priorities.

    You can read far more about it here: http://www.outsideonline.com/outdoor-adventure/athletes/lance-armstrong/Its-Not-About-the-Lab-Rats.html?page=all

    In addition, the Lance Armstrong Foundation has, until this past year, consistently ranked quite low, when compared to other non-profits, in terms of the actual % of dollars raised that trickle through to programs for cancer victims. They have made substantial improvements recently, which cynics may attribute to the increased scrutiny of the doping case.

    Also, I have add that “starting a charitable foundation from scratch” is hardly an exceptional act. Many professional athletes (as well as a ton of non athletic do-gooders) start charities. Some athletes start their charities through a genuine desire to do good. Others use their charities as a way of reducing their tax liability or to provide a method of “expensing” many of the athletes lifestyle expenses. Others still, start charities as a way of polishing their images. I won’t claim to have any specific knowledge of why Lance started his, but I would bet that most athletes who start them do so for a combination of reasons.

    6. Kiefer writes: “Tygart, a man holding a position reserved, theoretically, for someone
    beyond reproach, can’t comprehend the notion that hard work creates
    success. Incapable of exceptionalism on his own, he’s chosen to take the
    leech route, attaching himself to the destruction of someone else’s
    name, sacrifice, and achievement. Federal judge Sam Sparks, involved on
    the legal side of Armstrong’s issues, seems to agree. “The USADA’s
    conduct,” Sparks says, “raises serious questions about whether its real
    interest in charging Armstrong is to combat doping, or if it is acting
    according to less noble motives.”

    Here in 21st century America, where being exceptional is a criminal
    act, the American Dream no longer entails achievement. Rather, the idea
    is now to prevent others from achieving anything so we can all feel
    special. It’s like that line from the animated Pixar movie The
    Incredibles: Saying that everyone is special is the same thing as saying
    no one is.

    Lance Armstrong’s existence, it seems to me, makes Travis Tygart feel
    puny, inept, and downright pathetic. The irony in all of this, however,
    is that it’s not Armstrong’s fault. Well, Mr. Tygart, I hate to tell
    you, but the only thing making you feel that way is life, and you’ll
    never strip her of her achievement of producing someone exceptional like
    Lance Armstrong, nor will you stop her from producing more.”

    All of the above about Tygart may be true, I really don’t have any way of knowing. Even if everything you say is true though, and Tygart began with the presupposition that there is no way that Armstrong could have won clean, that doesn’t change the facts around Armstrong’s wins and use of PEDs. In other words, Tygart can be the biggest sour grapes hater in the world, but that did not create the use of PEDs out of thin air, and the use of PEDs is strongly supported by the facts.

    Regarding why Tygart is pursuing Armstrong so doggedly, and not going after other cyclists, there are a few points to consider:

    First, he has doggedly pursued other athletes in the past, including tour winner Floyd Landis, who despite his protestations at the time, has now confessed to doping.

    Second, much of the testimony against Armstrong has come from past teammates who cut deals for reduced penalties (regarding their own use of PEDs) in exchange for their testimony. That may seem unfair, but that is the way these systems work. Cooperate, and you get cut a break. The full details have yet to be revealed, but there was a leak that indicated that Tygart/USADA had offered to let Armstrong keep 5 of his tour wins if he came clean about his use of PEDs, and he refused. If that is true, then Armstrong is not being treated grossly differently than the other athletes. Like everyone else, he was offered the chance to cooperate, but unlike everyone else, he choose to dig in his heels and deny everything. That is why he is still being pursued, while other riders have gone free.

    Third, I would actually be surprised if Tygart DIDDN’T pursue Armstrong more doggedly than any other athlete. Why? Not because he is necessarily a hater. Instead, I encourage to you think about this. If you are fortunate enough to be a professional sport fisherman…in other words, you job is to catch fish…then you will probably want to try to catch the biggest and most challenging ones possible. Similarly, if you have Tygart’s job…which is to catch dopers…you will probably find it more appealing to try to catch the biggest and most challenging dopers out there. Do we criticize Elliot Ness because he doggedly pursued Al Capone instead focusing on common pickpockets? No, we venerate him as a hero.

    In closing, I will say that I am certain that Lance Armstrong is the best Tour de France rider ever, as well as an inspiration to cancer victims everywhere. But he is also a human being, and so is most certainly capable of folly. To assume otherwise just demonstrates an inability to tolerate cognitive dissonance, which casts your ability to think critically into doubt, at least as it pertains to this topic.

    • DHKiefer

      I still stand by my premise when this article was originally written (before anyone knew CONCRETELY that Lance Armstrong was, in fact, lying), that it is inexcusable to condemn and prosecute someone when the best available evidence is the athlete’s performance. As the judge in the case seems to agree with me, I do not apologize for my stance that I need evidence before making conclusions.

      After working with professional athletes across many sports, I am not naive about the use of performance enhancing drugs and their ubiquity in sports. But if any other athlete were prosecuted solely because they were so good, I hold to the same level of behaviour that we are mandated to uphold as part of our basic freedoms: We are innocent until proven guilty. In this instance, Armstrong gave us the proof after the fact.

  • Marcia Golibart

    In light of the most recent events, maybe we should revisit this article. As much as I admire you Kiefer, I am 100% with Kai Rawson-Ahern on this one. No doubt Armstrong is one hell of an athlete, but he also proved to be a liar and an arrogant prick.

    • DHKiefer

      See my comment below Kai’s. If anyone thinks this is simply about defending Lance Armstrong, they should read with a more critical eye. This is about defending EVERYONE from hearsay and the mentality of “guilty in the court of public opinion until proven innocent”.

  • dennis

    Its really too bad that he is now a proven drug cheat so with his lactic acid advantage plus the doping ofcourse he was unbeatable.

    But none of this takes away from his massive charity efforts to help change lives of thousands of people

  • Known Unknowns

    This article makes me question your “research” on everything else. How can I believe anything you say when you’re unwilling to consider all possible theories…?