by:Â Lisa Olson AOL FanHouse Columnist
Lance Armstrong may have firmly cemented his place as the biggest conman in sports, but the myths surrounding him haven't quite reached the tipping point. Let's examine a handful.
MYTH: Armstrong always was preternaturally gifted-that's what his supporters continue to scream as they strain to defend the indefensible-and had he not been weakened by cancer his cycling reign would hover way above legendary.
But did performance-enhancing drugs beget his cancer?
In his early years he never was unique physically, standing 5-10 and broad through the shoulders, but he did possess a distinct drive that compelled him as a runner in grade school to compete against grown men in 10K races across Texas.
Later, when he turned to the bike, he'd embark on solo training excursions that extended to the Oklahoma border and back, and by his teens he had established his bona fides as a professional triathlete. Nobody doubts his training devotion or desire to be the best.
Armstrong's pro cycling career began in 1992, and at some point he began taking PEDs -according to massive piles of testimony from his former teammates, some of whom had no ax to grind and spoke under the threat of perjury because they were tired of the big lie and wanted to see the sport cleansed-and at some point he became ill.
Only Armstrong and his doctors can say for sure if there is any correlation between his use of PEDs and his testicular cancer diagnosis in 1996, when he was just 25. Erythropoietin (EPO) and blood doping, the cyclists' drugs of choice throughout the 1990s, not only were extremely difficult to detect, they also complemented steroid regimens riders used so they could withstand rigorous training.
Not always did the riders understand what was being put into their bodies.
Greg Strock, for instance, was another of America's finest riders, just one year younger than Armstrong in the U.S. juniors program and on the fast track for the Olympic team. While training in France, he developed a bad cold and was given pills he was told were vitamins and injections that the U.S. coach and officials said were extracts of cortisone.
His symptoms rapidly disappeared, but soon he was felled by a catastrophic illness that caused swollen lymph nodes and fatigue so immense, he'd sleep for 18 hours a day. Doctors suspected AIDS, then lymphatic cancer until discovering he had a severe case of human parvovirus B19 infection made worse by a suppressed immune system.
Strock retired from the sport, entered medical school and began studying steroids, both anabolic and corticosteroids, such as cortisone. He learned that not only is there no such thing as an extract of cortisone, in large doses cortisone depresses the immune system. He never knew what was in those syringes, just that he had been injected with a lot of it by the staff of USA Cycling that included, according to court documents, Chris Carmichael, who went on to coach Armstrong.
Strock, now a physician in Indiana, successfully sued USA Cycling, as did Erich Kaiter, an American teammate who alleged he, too, was injected with banned drugs and consequently developed a severely compromised immune system. Carmichael settled out of court, with the results sealed.
Meanwhile, medical studies have shown that a high prevalence of human parvovirus B19 may play a role in tumor development and has an 85 percent correlation with testicular cancer. Some in the cycling world have equated what happened to Strock and Kaiter as athletic date rape, for it was a violation of their bodies by a gang that had nefarious motives.
And now we have the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency calling Armstrong's empire "the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen."
If that charge doesn't make the mind spin, think back to an October day in 1996 when Frankie Andreu and his fiancÃ© Betsy, at the time both great friends of Armstrong, congregated in an Indianapolis hospital room to support the cyclist after he had been diagnosed with testicular cancer.
Both have testified to overhearing Armstrong tell his doctors about his use of PEDs-testosterone, EPO and human growth hormone. In the affidavit she provided to USADA, Betsy describes warning Frankie she wouldn't marry him if he used PEDs because, she said, that's how Armstrong "got his cancer."
By 1999, when Armstrong was on the verge of dominating the field in ways that seemed super human considering he had survived stage three cancer and brain tumors, Andreu's promise to ride clean was no more. Pressed by Armstrong to take his role more seriously, Andreu testified he began using EPO in preparation for the Tour de France.
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MYTH: Armstrong was tested more than any athlete ever, upward of 500 times, and never once did the urine of a guy who won the Tour seven consecutive times come up positive.
And so go the parables, none of them quite true. The staggering sworn testimony of 26 people, including 11 of Armstrong's former teammates, unveils the devious ways cyclists could deliberately evade drug testers via a complicated warning system.
From the more than 1,000 pages of evidence released by the USADA to explain how Armstrong's teams used and trafficked drugs to dominate the Tour from 1999-2005 and why he was stripped of his seven titles, we learn of the riders using undetectable blood transfusions to clear traces of the drugs that induced outrageous oxygen-carrying capacity. Team doctors aided in disguising EPO and other illegal supplements so they didn't trigger positives. One doctor, now banned for life from cycling, wrote Armstrong a backdated prescription to cover up a positive test.
In truth, Armstrong was tested roughly 60 times, far less than the fictitious number he claims. He was described in the report as dropping out of a race after being alerted that drug testers were on the premises. Johan Bruyneel, the director of U.S. Postal, was described as tipping riders off in advance of surprise controls, allowing dopers to hide from testers.
A telling section alleges that Bruyneel would "introduce young men to performance enhancing drugs, becoming adept at leading them down the path from newly minted professional riders to veteran drug user." Pushers on urban street corners could learn a lot from such a conspiracy.
Back in 2005, L'Equip reported that several of Armstrong's samples from 1999 were found to have EPO in them. Americans rolled their eyes at what they were sure was a witch hunt by those nasty French. It was easier to cling to the romantic idea that a Yank from Texas had fairly beaten the whiny Europeans at their own sport.
But in this astoundingly damning opus, a mountain of evidence explains how Armstrong and his supporters engaged in bribes and payoffs to coerce riders to get with the program and keep mum if they wanted to remain on his winning team.
The gravest proof comes from George Hincapie, Armstrong's longtime pal who had never before tested positive for drugs but nonetheless threw himself on the guillotine and admitted he doped along with Armstrong. Hincapie, who rode with Armstrong in all seven of his Tour victories, said Armstrong pleaded with him to stay in Europe so he might avoid testifying.
With all that scientific evidence and sworn testimony, it's stunning that blind hero worship of Armstrong still exists.
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MYTH: Even if Armstrong doped, the yeoman work he's done to raise millions for cancer research outshines all his faults.
Livestrong, the foundation Armstrong founded in 1997 shortly after announcing he was cancer-free, tends to be the fallback cry for those who continue to defend their fallen hero. Peruse most any article about him and it will likely be followed with a comment from a reader extolling how much money Armstrong has contributed toward the goal of eradicating cancer.
In another truth, Livestrong has evolved from a research nonprofit into more of a marketing agency. Besides raising money for "cancer awareness," it does a fantastic job of pumping up the awesomeness that is Lance.
This is from a lengthy investigative article in Outside magazine back in January: "Most people-including nearly everybody I surveyed while reporting this story-assume that Livestrong funnels large amounts of money into cancer research. Nope. The foundation gave out a total of $20 million in research grants between 1998 and 2005, the year it began phasing out its support of hard science. A note on the foundation's website informs visitors that, as of 2010, it no longer even accepts research proposals."
Bill Gifford, the author, also writes: "On the program side, I learned that Livestrong provides an innovative and expanding suite of direct services to help cancer survivors negotiate our Kafkaesque health care system. Beyond that, though, I found a curiously fuzzy mix of cancer-war goals like 'survivorship' and 'global awareness,' labels that seem to entail plastering the yellow Livestrong logo on everything from T-shirts to medical conferences to soccer stadiums. Much of the foundation's work ends up buffing the image of one Lance Edward Armstrong, which seems fair-after all, Livestrong wouldn't exist without him. But Livestrong spends massively on advertising, PR, and 'branding,' all of which helps preserve Armstrong's marketability at a time when he's under fire. Meanwhile, Armstrong has used the goodwill of his foundation to cut business deals that have enriched him personally, an ethically questionable move."
It's fair to wonder how large an empire Livestrong would be if Armstrong hadn't cheated and won all those Tours-albeit against a field of dopers, none benefiting from a program as sophisticated as Lance's-and thus earned extraordinary wealth and blind adulation. Would he even be in the position to lead the cancer brigades with their yellow wrist shields? Armstrong urged millions to believe that, as he liked to say, "just because a doctor gave a death sentence doesn't mean you have to die"-and that message doesn’t have to change even if the emperor has been uncloaked.
The tipping point teeters and sways by the day. Corporate sponsors such as Nike and Radio Shack continue to jump from Armstrong’s ship. He's fired himself as chairman of his charity, possibly his wisest move yet. Livestrong happily accepted his resignation.
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MYTH: At his core Armstrong is a good, decent man, the child of a single mother who clawed his way up from humble means to become the next Greg LeMond.
Go ahead and read an expose in Sunday's New York Daily News that illustrates with withering anecdotes the methods Armstrong and his posse of high-priced lawyers, sponsors and sycophants used to destroy people in and out of the peloton who dared tell the truth.
And then try to argue he's not a sociopath in spandex.
He fortified his empire through deception and fear, using his superstardom to intimidate and coerce with tactics culled from the mafia. Those who didn't abide by the omerta were threatened with financial ruin. Does a good man menace the families of other riders? Does a decent person crush professional reputations by spreading false lies for his own narcissistic gain?
Before the swoosh was ripped from Armstrong, the Daily News questioned whether he and Nike had engaged in a cover-up, reporting that Kathy LeMond, wife of Greg, testified that Nike executives slipped cycling officials $500,000 to make one of Armstrong's positive drug tests disappear. It's a claim Nike denies.
In accepting the sanctions that stripped Armstrong of all race results since August 1998, Pat McQuaid, president of the Union Cycliste Internationale, said Monday that Armstrong "deserves to be forgotten in cycling." This was a bit rich considering the UCI had previously backed Armstrong's legal fight to deny USADA jurisdiction over his fate.
For decades the UCI ignored the widespread doping and propped up the super human, though now they'd rather pretend he doesn't exist. The truth is, sports will always have its frauds, its myth builders and shiners.
But Armstrong towered over all, for he allowed the construction of his myth to depict him as a saint while trying to annihilate everyone who knew otherwise. It was quite the con, and we still don't know the half of it.
http://aol.sportingnews.com/sport/story/2012-10-23/lance-armstrong-doping-news-tour-de-france-uci-cycling-union-nike-contractSocial tagging: anabolic steroids > banned substances > cheat > cycling > doping > drugs > epo > steroids > testing