Monday, October 22, 2012

Lance, LiveStrong, and the doping ruckus

All this stuff is kind of old news. But I heard a discussion on NPR the other day that got me thinking about it again. Bullet points for thoughts:

1) The US Anti-Doping Agency CANNOT take away Lance Armstrong's titles.
There has been a lot of talk about his titles having been stripped. USADA cannot do this unilaterally. All they have done is write up a investigative report with the strong recommendation to the International Cycling Union to have the titles stripped. UPDATE: As of today, the ICU agreed and had all his titles stripped. It's said that the titles won't be given to another competitor and the winner in each year will simply be left blank.

2) Is it really cheating when everyone is doing it?
I can't find the exact numbers, but it seems that every person on that podium in the Tour de France, and in some cases the other runners up something like 7 people deep, are all dealing or are convicted of performance enhancement drug (PED) use. Hence, why they won't hand down the title and rather leave the space blank. So of course everyone asks "if everyone is doing it, is it really cheating? Are you just lynching yourself if you DON'T do it?"

3) PEDs are not the "easy way to the top"
I've predominantly competed in sports that don't allow the use of PEDs and have personally been piss tested. People in my sports have been caught. But I've also been around plenty of bodybuilders and powerlifters where their sports aren't tested. And those that use are some of the hardest working mo-fos out there.

I think there is this general societal feeling that people "cheat" and use PEDs because the athlete in question is too lazy to do the real work and wants a leg up. Yes, PEDs will give you a leg up, but only if you're giving yourself that initial boost! The people that seek out things like steroids, EPO, and growth hormone, those that are willing to take that plunge, are usually the type-A++ people that will train themselves into the hospital if it weren't for the recovery properties that these substances afford. These are people who work their asses off and want to ensure that all their effort is going to come out in gains.

4) The science of doping will always be ahead of the testing.
First there was BALCorp and "The Clear." Then there was Human Growth Hormone. We can detect both of these now, but for at least a few years, athletes were able to freely use these substances right up to the hour of competition, get tested, and come out roses. So what does it mean for organizations when they ban a substance they can't even test for. Should we only retroactively test those athletes we have "concerns" about? If we're all about fairness, should we be ready to retroactively test and ban stored samples from 10, 15, 20 years ago when a new test comes out?

5) Back to even competition.
I'm going to quote an old coach when he was explaining ex-US ideas on doping. There are three ways to think about clean athletes:

a. Never took anything
b. Didn't take them for this meet
c. Took them, but long enough ago that they can pass the test on the day of the meet.

USADA, the USOC, and other American agencies all (think they) adhere to point (a). Other countries, those that have been caught time and time again, adhere to either (b) or (c). Their athletes usually test clean, unless one of their regimes goes off-line.

Basically, the very manner in which we discuss doping, regulate doping, and allow or ban doping needs to change.

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