Lance Armstrong vs. USADA: What are we to believe?

I have always found the Lance Armstrong vs. U.S. Anti-Doping Agency fight a tough one in which to take a side, because there are no sides. This is a circle, and a vicious one at that, of accusations and denials and accusations and denials. To believe USADA, to me, meant suspending belief in the science of drug testing. To believe Armstrong meant going out on a limb with an athlete who is easy to admire as a person but who excelled in a sport where seemingly half the competitors were cheating.

Now that Armstrong has raised the white flag and said he’s dropping his fight against USADA, his detractors have declared that move an admission of guilt because no one with Armstrong’s fight would give up. USADA has declared victory and announced it would ban the retired cyclist for life — ouch! — and strip him of his seven Tour de France titles — more of an ouch, definitely.

Who, and what, are we supposed to believe? And if we, like Armstrong, just want to give up, are we guilty of something as well? Apathy? A double standard? Drug use?

For me, if you take personalities out of the equation, you’re left with pee in a cup and blood in a syringe. Armstrong never failed a drug test. He was tested in competition, out of competition. He was tested at the Olympics, at the Tour de France, at dozens if not hundreds of other events. And he never failed a test. We know this because if he had, Travis T. Tygart, the head of USADA, would have personally delivered the results to every home in America, like a grim little Santa Claus.

Instead, Tygart gathered a group of people who swear they saw Armstrong doping. There has been no trial, no due process, but in the minds of many, that testimony outweighs the results of hundreds of drug tests.

People lie. Blood and urine usually don’t. And if they do, they don’t lie 500 times. People do. Some lie that many times in a week. But okay. Let’s assume these people really are witnesses, let’s assume they’re telling the truth, and then let’s assume that their testimony is the new standard, outweighing all drug test results.

Then what in the world is the point of drug testing? In any sport, by any group, at any level of competition? If the results can be discarded in favor of testimony, then let’s go right to the testimony phase and quit horsing around with blood and urine. The cheaters are always ahead of USADA and its brethren anyway. They have deeper pockets and better doctors. So let’s toss out the baby with the blood and urine bath water and just call in witnesses who will recount all the bad things they saw their fellow competitors do. What in the world could possibly be wrong with that system?

I don’t know if Armstrong did the things he’s accused of doing, and neither do you. I don’t know if these witnesses are telling the truth, and neither do you. I do know two things: First, he passed all his tests. And second, if he had failed a drug test, and brought in 10 people to testify that they were with him every minute of every day leading up to the test and he never ingested anything, never injected anything, never doped his blood, would we be having this debate today? No, because he would have failed a drug test, and all the testimony in the world wouldn’t matter.

It can’t work both ways. Either a drug test is the standard, or it isn’t. A lot of athletes must be wondering the point of going through testing if they can be taken down anyway, regardless of the results, even years after the fact.

Armstrong’s legacy may take a hit, but for those who were inspired by his comeback from cancer survivor to Tour winner, he’ll always be a Tour winner, no matter what the International Cycling Union decides about his Tour titles. For those who always thought he was a cheat, this will make them feel better. The only true tragedy in all this would be if USADA’s actions hurt Armstrong’s foundation, which has raised nearly $500 million for cancer research.

No one should feel good about what’s happened here. In the minds of many, Armstrong fought USADA because he was a cheater. And he gave up the fight because he was a cheater. He can’t win for losing. This isn’t quite the American system of justice of which we are so very proud. USADA’s aims may have been pure at the start, but by the end it had made its work seem vindictive and its major tool — drug testing — seem irrelevant. There were no winners here, and a lot of losers.

For previous columns by Tracee Hamilton, visit washingtonpost.
com/hamilton.

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