To purchase The Champion’s Way, by Steve Victorson, Ed.D and Robert Yehling
Like many others, I was surprised to see Lance Armstrong give up his fight against the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which has spent the past 13 years on a vendetta against him — a vendetta unlike any leveled against an athlete in the history of sport. Even late baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti’s pursuit of Pete Rose for his gambling activities (which proved to be well-founded) pales in comparison to what Armstrong has endured.
I’m sad, but not surprised, that as soon as Armstrong decided he had no need to prove he was innocent (the USADA’s backdoor strategy after 13 years of investigations, plus a federal investigation, showed nothing), the USADA did what anyone on a vendetta would do — moved to strip away everything, from the right to race to his seven Tour deFrance titles to his dignity. No hearing, no trial, no evidence, no nothing. Guilty, no matter what. Isn’t this America?
Did Armstrong engage in blood doping and other use of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs? I don’t know. It would be foolish to believe he didn’t check it out early in his career. Nearly everyone who accused him is either banned from cycling or retired so they didn’t have to face the music. In fact, their whole complaint against Lance contains as much caterwauling as anything else. Essentially, they’re saying, “We doped up and he still beat the hell out of us. That’s not possible. He must have been using.” That’s the story thread the USADA ran with, folks.
Here’s where I question this whole process: where’s the evidence? There is none. It would have come out by now. Other investigators produced physical evidence against Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, yet neither was directly proven to have used performance enhancing drugs. As for Lance, he passed more than 500 doping tests — including 29 administered directly by the USADA. So right now, he is being hung for unsubstantiated charges from former cheating rivals (all beaten repeatedly by Lance), and purported physical evidence that has never been produced. They say they have evidence of doping in 1999? Show it then!
I knew Lance mainly during his formative years, first as American’s youngest professional triathlete and then as an up-and-coming cyclist, and I saw a man committed to winning. We had good conversations about the path to becoming a winner, then a champion, whether he was recovering from a closed-course triathlon in the late 1980s or getting ready for the Tour DuPont, a great American cycling tour that took place (and he won) in the mid-1990s. He talked about winning, thought about winning, and put his cards on the table and said, “Beat me if you can.”
A lot of European riders, press and officials considered this to be brash and arrogant behavior. You know, “the ugly American.” I saw it all the time in the German papers (I was living there at the time). Translation? They didn’t want an American riding in to dominate their sport — but he did, like no other. Nor did the USADA want to see this particular athlete transcend his sport, become the face of the sport. But he did.
Along the way, there are a lot of pissed off cyclists who would have been known as champions if Armstrong didn’t relegate their peak years to support team riding. Here are a couple of names you’ve heard if you’ve followed this story: Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis. You want the deeper reasons behind this 13-year witch hunt that has, at times, involved vanquished competitors, race and agency officials who like the status quo, the French media and former teammates? It smacks of jealousy to me. Build a hero up; tear a hero down. It’s the way of this world, unfortunately.
I remember standing near the base of val d’Isere during the 2000 Tour deFrance, watching the move Armstrong put on the 1998 TDF champion, Jan Ullrich of Germany. Ullrich was the superior technical rider, and also was in better condition. However, Lance knew that Ullrich was not nearly as tough mentally. Armstrong spent most of the race feigning stomach illness, hoping Ullrich would ease up if his only true rival was sick on the course. When he got to the base of val d’Isere, a non-category (extreme) climb, Lance caught up to Ullrich, pushed ahead of him and gave him that stare: “I got you. Catch me if you can.” That was it for Ullrich.
While many people lauded Armstrong’s brilliant rope-a-dope strategy, others blasted him for his “cowboy behavior,” that he somehow stooped beneath proper sportsmanlike comportment by giving Ullrich “the stare”. Come to think of it, after this day, the agencies and media began their lynchfest.
They haven’t stopped yet. Funny: I thought we wanted our champions to win in their own clean ways, to do what it takes, and to celebrate their accomplishments. An athlete comes along who’s a little more brash than others, with a personality and a mission much bigger than his sport, who beats the pants off of the very best in his sport … and this happens.
Armstrong committed himself the right way: by working harder than everyone else, putting himself through threshholds of pain few of us could withstand, learning his sport inside and out, and focusing on one thing — first place. My co-author, Steve Victorson, and I wrote a book that details the inner workings of athletes like Lance — The Champion’s Way. In our model of what constitutes a champion, Armstrong rises to the very top in all the key categories. He’s in a very small circle of men and women you can rightfully call, “The Greatest In Their Sport’s History.”
Which pisses off the establishment of that sport.
Oh yeah … along the way, he somehow survived mestastatic testicular cancer that would have ended the lives of most other people. He’d take a brutal chemo treatment, slip out of the hospital, crawl onto his bike and pedal 20 miles. His reasoning? If he’s going to be sick, might as well maintain some muscle tone and focus on cycling along the way. That sound like a drug cheat to you? It only made Armstrong an even more perfect machine to tackle the Tour de France, shedding unnecessary weight and driving an already iron-tough athlete into the stratosphere of mental toughness.
Then, if you listen to the USADA, so “obsessed” was Armstrong with himself and his legacy — and completely self-absorbed to the point of cheating repeatedly, so they say — that he started Livestrong, an organization that has become a beacon of light to 28 million people who suffer from cancer. So many more people recognize Lance as a cancer survivor who fights for the cause that, the day after Lance gave up this ridiculous tug-of-war with the USADA, online donations increased 35-fold from normal weekdays.
My final question: Why stick it to Lance 18 months after he retired from cycling? That answer is easiest of all: the USADA waited until the spotlight was turned off, and the public response wouldn’t be so boisterious. Or so they thought. Instead of nailing him during his career — like reputable agencies do all the time in other sports, including cycling — they had to wait until it was all over.
Why? Because they never had anything in the first place. And they have no problem sullying the legacy of a man who, quite simply, rose above the sport they try to insulate like it’s their private cigar club.
Lance Armstrong will always be a hero to millions of cyclists and sports fans, but more importantly, to tens of millions of cancer patients past, present and future. Compared to that, the USADA is a mosquito — and that’s what CEO Travis Lygart and his precedessor, former Armstrong pursuer Dick Pound, hate the most.