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HindustanTimes Wed,16 Apr 2014

Other Sport

Lance Armstrong banned, wiped off record books
AFP
Geneva , October 22, 2012
First Published: 16:41 IST(22/10/2012)
Last Updated: 18:39 IST(22/10/2012)
Seven time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong of the US stands with hand on heart during the playing of national anthems after he won his seventh straight Tour de France in Paris, in this 2005 file photo. Reuters photo

Once a symbol of perseverance in the face of the most incredible odds, Lance Armstrong now seems destined to go down in history as one of the most brazen dope cheats that sport has ever seen.

After sensationally conceding defeat in his fight to contest the charges against him in August, the Texan's world caved in further on Monday when the International Cycling Union (UCI) erased him from the sport's history.

The US Anti-Doping Agency had already published a damning report that laid bare his guilt.

Armstrong, they claimed, was at the heart of "the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen".

"He was not just a part of the doping culture on his team," said the USADA. "He enforced and re-enforced it."

UCI president Pat McQuaid told reporters he was "sickened" by the revelations, adding: "Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling."

The decision to cast aside one of cycling's most successful exponents leaves Armstrong's sporting legacy in tatters but for all his detractors, there have been just as many admirers.

For his supporters, the doping allegations pale into comparison beside his battle with life-threatening cancer and the work of his charitable foundation, which he founded to help others living with the disease.

This file photo shows seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong grimacing during a news conference after the Memorial Hermann Ironman 70.3 Texas triathlon in Galveston, Texas. AP Photo

Doctors had given Armstrong a less than 50 percent chance of survival when he was diagnosed in 1996 with testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain.

He persevered through surgery and chemotherapy and returned to cycling but was little known in his homeland when he won his first Tour de France title in 1999.

His years of dominance in the sport's greatest race raised cycling's profile in the United States to new heights and gave him a platform to promote cancer awareness and research.

The Lance Armstrong Foundation has raised almost $500 million (340 million euros, 310 million pounds) since it was created in 1997.

But in the aftermath of the allegations, several top sponsors dropped Armstrong and he even quit as chairman of Livestrong. 

In this photo dated on June 8, 2003 US cyclist Lance Armstrong speaks to the press in Villars-de-Lans, before the start of the first stage of the Criterium du Dauphine Libere cycling event. AFP PHOTO

Even in his glory days of cycling, many were sceptical of his powers.

In 1999, it was a trace amount of a banned corticosteroid, which cycling officials explained by saying he was authorised to use a small amount of cream containing the drug to treat saddle sores.

After his 2000 Tour triumph, French authorities probed his US Postal Service team but brought no charges.

Critics seized on his friendship with Italian doctor Michele Ferrari, who was banned by Italian authorities over doping in 2002.http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2012/10/13_10_12-metro21.jpg

In 2004, a Texas promotions company balked at paying him a $5 million bonus for his sixth tour title because of doping allegations by European media.

In that court case, former team-mate Frankie Andreu and his wife, Betsy, testified that Armstrong told doctors during his cancer treatment that he had taken steroids and other performance-enhancers.

Two books published in Europe, "L.A. Confidential" and "L.A. Official", alleged he doped and in 2005, French newspaper L'Equipe reported that urine samples taken during the 1999 Tour that were later re-tested were positive for the blood-booster EPO.

Armstrong fought back with denials and even court action, before briefly launching a comeback in 2009, but in the end the sheer weight of evidence against him -- including testimony from 11 former team-mates -- proved too much to withstand.

The strongly-worded comments went to the heart of claims of failings at UCI and in particular to McQuaid, who has been criticised for failing to see the extent of doping within the sport.

Verbruggen, who stepped down in 2006 but remains honorary president, ran the UCI during Armstrong's golden era -- a time when USADA's report says Armstrong and team-mates evaded dope tests either by hiding or being tipped off in advance.

The Dutchman has also been accused of protecting Armstrong -- even accepting a donation to cover up a positive dope test.

The cyclist's cancer backstory and Tour triumphs from 1999 to 2005 were seen as key to restoring cycling's tattered image after a string of high-profile doping scandals in 1990s.

Armstrong's Tour victories are unlikely to be re-awarded, the race's director Christian Prudhomme has said. The void avoids further headaches, given that the majority of riders who finished on the podium have also been implicated in doping.

On the eve of the UCI decision, Armstrong spoke for about 90 seconds to a record 4,300 bikers at the Livestrong Challenge charity benefit, a 100-mile (160-kilometre) race in his hometown of Austin, Texas.

"I've been better, but I've also been worse," Armstrong told the riders. "Obviously it has been an interesting and difficult couple of weeks."

Since the USADA report, sponsors have fled Armstrong and he was forced to resign as chairman of the Livestrong cancer-fighting charity he founded in 1997 over concerns his tarnished reputation could hurt the cause.

Armstrong, who overcame testicular cancer that had spread to his brain and lungs to achieve cycling stardom, inspired more than $500 million in donations to Livestrong and pushed other cancer survivors to battle the condition.

No criminal charges were filed against Armstrong from an 18-month US federal probe that ended earlier this year and evidence from that case was not given to USADA.

But Armstrong could yet face court cases from former sponsors who accepted his assurances that his legacy was not aided by banned substances.

 


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