In a matter of days Lance Armstrong will be spilling his guts Oprah style on cable TV. I will be watching, if only to see how precise his confession is. With the release of the documents supporting the reasoned decision of the US Anti Doping Agency the information is out there for all to read, and it would seem that Lance Armstrong has nothing more to add regarding the mechanics of doping over the past 20+ years. What Armstrong may have to add could be names; names that are currently redacted in the affidavits of the reasoned decision or confirmation of players that have been implicated. He may be able to blow holes in the defences of the last men standing such as Johan Bruyneel, Pat McQuaid, staff of AFLD Luasanne and Dr. Michele Ferrari. Sure it would also be nice to hear some apologies to the likes of Greg Lemond, Betsy Andreu (but not Frankie in my books), David Walsh (not likely though) and others Lance has been reported to use his significant wealth and influence to destroy but that may be asking too much as it would open the doors to litigation.
After Oprah, Where Does Cycling Go Next?
With the reputation of teams, managers, oversight bodies and the feelings of sponsors in tatters, where is the sport of cycling to go from here? A period of rebuilding that includes more testing and more doping positives? A truth and reconciliation commission that will allow the remainder of the ethical failures to come to light, in an attempt to turn a page? And In light of all this what is the amateur athlete to do?
How Easy Is It To Dope?
Easier than you think. A former semi-neo-pro (the stage before being picked to be groomed for pro status) put this situation to me.
“You take vitamins don’t you Paul”.
“What if I told you that taking vitamins intravenously is more effective. Would you take them that way?”
What he is pointing out is the slippery slope that riders are on and how easy it is to move from simple supplementation to more effective but prohibited augmentation.
For their part, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES) says not to take any supplements and if you do, to ensure that they are NSF registered (http://www.cces.ca/en/supplements). “The CCES believes the use of most supplements poses an unacceptable risk for athletes and their athletic career.”
Aside from purposeful doping athletes must also guard themselves from accidental violations of ethical codes. Psuedoefedrine (common allergy med ingredient available without a prescription) , furosemide (diuretic), corticosteroid (available in over the counter creams for skin conditions) can all be taken for medical reason, but for sport, require a therapeutic use exemption when competing in events that are governed by anti-doping rules. And further, “Under the rules of the Canadian Anti-Doping Program and the World Anti-Doping Code, athletes are strictly liable for any prohibited substance found in their doping control sample, regardless of how it got there.” (http://www.cces.ca/en/advisories-48-supplements-containing-steroids-or-stimulants).
The take home for the amateur athlete is that you should avoid supplements or medications at all costs. And if you have to take them for health, to exclude yourself from competition.
In another example, the laws governing canabis usage continue to change. In simple terms it is now legal to smoke for personal and medical reasons, and to many that weakening of drug laws can be misunderstood as an indication that canabis is harmless and okay (though I personally believe it to be a gateway drug to convenience store nachos). For better of worse, it is still a prohibited substance in sport and this collision of change in public attitudes and anti-doping policies will most likely continue to result in more sanctions (see page 23 of the CCES annual report for examples http://www.cces.ca/files/pdfs/CCES-AR-2011-2012-E.pdf).
Does this really matter?
That depends. If you race your bike on the weekend against your friends, then perhaps not. If you participate in GranFondo style events that have no ethical alignment than most likely not. If you race the local circuit and carry a racing license then absolutely. But in all instances I would ask the athletes that I coach to go further than the requirements and to strive to have the highest level performance, both athletically and ethically.
Back to Lance
Thursday night at 9pm ET I will be watching Oprah to see what Lance has to say about his role in unethical sport. I am sure there will be a few gems, though anyone who acts surprised by any revelations at this point is a nincompoop. I will be watching to learn what I can in order to direct my athletes in their pursuit of goals, whether they are a simple personal best or podium position.