Wednesday, August 11, 2010

It's the Tour de France, not the Tour de Happy Pretty Candyland

Here's what I believe about doping in sports:

The most important thing to remember about doping is that it works. It works like hell. It can make mediocre athletes good, good athletes elite, and elite athletes great. It's almost impossible to win without doping in a sport where there is widespread doping. In fact, if the doping is widespread enough, it's almost impossible even to compete at a high level without doping.

Here's what I believe about cycling and the Tour de France:

In terms of doping, cycling is just about the dirtiest sport in the world, and the Tour de France, a grueling, superhuman test of endurance, is the dirtiest event. It has a culture of doping that dates back more than a century. It's rife with banned athletes and trainers. Entire teams have been banned en masse for doping. Winners of the most prestigious events have been caught and banned. Former competitors confess and accuse left and right.

Here's what I believe about Lance Armstrong:

Armstrong has been accused of doping by journalists and by former competitors, teammates, and employees. Some of his teammates have been caught doping. Retrospective testing of his urine samples was positive for EPO (but the results were correctly thrown out for violating numerous protocols). For years, he employed a doctor strongly associated with doping as part of his training team.

I believe that all of the above makes it far more likely than not that Lance Armstrong doped while he was dominating the Tour de France. It is almost impossible for a non-doper to not only win but dominate for seven years against a field loaded with dopers. Even if we were talking about someone who had remained squeaky clean with never a shadow of doubt touching him, it would scarcely be credible. But that's not who we're talking about. We're talking about a man who's had dirt swirl all around him but never quite stick. The most reasonable conclusion -- not the only possible conclusion, but the most reasonable one -- is obvious.

But you know what? I don't care. I admire what Armstrong did, not what I want him to have done. He came back after almost dying from cancer and dominated arguably the toughest sporting event in the world. He did it for seven straight years. And he did it coming from a country with little cycling tradition. It was like a Japanese guy becoming the NFL's greatest running back or something.

So I don't care if he did dope. He beat a bunch of dopers. If he doped too, all he was doing was leveling the playing field. He didn't win because he doped, he won because he was the best.

Apparently, though, I am a "cynic" because I believe those things. In other words, I'm a "cynic" because I believe that that Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France, the dirtiest event in the dirtiest sport in the world, and not the Tour de Happy Pretty Candyland, which seems to be the event some people wish he had won.

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