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The strange case of Lance Armstrong and the USADA

Updated on October 10, 2012

The treatment of Lance Armstrong compared to Carl Lewis

.No doubt you will have read about the USADA heralding their victory over Lance Armstrong, having pursued the legendary cyclist with extreme vigour for years. They have issued a lifetime ban against an athlete who undertook hundreds of drugs tests without failing one and have decreed that all of his titles should be taken away from him.

Now I have to say that the verbal testimony of his former team mates, especially Tyler Hamilton is particularly damning and if Armstrong was guilty of abusing the system then I don’t have a problem with their decision. What worries me is that they have no physical or recorded evidence and I find their pursuit of Armstrong strange in contrast to a self confessed drugs abuser such as Carl Lewis, who failed three drugs tests and has been allowed to keep his medals along with the other 113 athletes exposed by Wade Exum.

I find it quite extraordinary that even when I speak to people who are sports fanatics, how few of them are aware that Carl Lewis failed three drugs tests, but what annoys me even more is Lewis’s hypocrisy. Carl Lewis was the Usain Bolt of his day and the world record holder and the Gold medallist in the long Jump for good measure. He was also the spokesman for an organisation called Lay Witnesses for Christ and his mission backed by his mega stardom was to propagate truth, honour and forgiveness.

When Ben Johnson broke the world 100metres record in 9.83sec. Lewis ran 9.93sec and he was most indignant about the incident in his autobiography: “I had run the best legal time of my life and it still wasn't good enough to beat Ben. It wasn't even good enough to come close.” That’s an interesting use of the word “Legal” for an athlete the world believed was Mr Clean at the time.

At the Seoul Olympics, Johnson again beat Lewis and the Canadian papers proclaimed Canadian hero wins gold; three days later the same paper ran the headline Jamaican immigrant disgraces Canada, when Johnson was disqualified for failing a drugs test in the biggest-ever scandal at the Olympics.

The gold medal was handed down to Lewis, who had finished second and large chunks of Lewis’s autobiography are rants against the iniquity of opponents who use illegal substances.

For years, the Americans had derided the efforts of the Eastern Europeans, and the Chinese, but insiders had speculated that U.S. athletes were not immune to chemical aids to get ahead of the competition Lewis was always keen to portray himself as ultra clean: "There is no commitment to stopping the drug problem. People know the sport is dirty, the sport is so driven by records."

Then In 2003, Dr. Wade Exum's, the former U.S. Olympic Committee anti-doping chief released a report to Sports Illustrated that 19 American medallists had been allowed to compete at various Olympic Games from 1988 to 2000 despite having earlier failed drug tests.

The five-time Olympic medallist was among the athletes named in more than 30,000 pages of documents released by Exum revealed that more than 100 athletes from several different sports had tested positive for banned substances between 1988 and 2000 but were cleared by internal appeals processes. According to Exum's evidence, Lewis was one of three eventual Olympic gold medallists who tested positive for banned stimulants in the months leading up to the 1988 Seoul Games.

We now know that 114 of America's Olympic competitors, 19 of who won medals, failed drugs tests over a 12 year period, yet the U. S. Olympic Committee did nothing to prevent them from taking part. The USOC was forced to re-examine how they conducted drug testing and turned over drug testing responsibilities to the newly founded U.S. Anti-Doping association, a country's own Olympic federation had turned their backs on the oath of fair play and allowed drug cheats to compete for a decade's worth of Olympic Games. Athletics record books from the period aren’t worth the paper they were written on; if Mr Clean’s records were drug assisted, then who could you trust, which gold medals, were won honestly?

Last month Carl Lewis broken his silence and finally admitted what we had all known for the past ten years, however he showed no signs of contrition or remorse: “There were hundreds of people getting off,” he said. “Everyone was treated the same.”

“The climate was different then,” said Lewis. “Over the years a lot of people will sit around and debate that [the drug] does something. There really is no pure evidence to show that it does something. It does nothing.” A strange statement from a man whose autobiography spent page after page complaining about how disadvantaged clean athletes were and if they did “nothing” then why complain so vigorously about Ben Johnson or take them yourself.

Johnson has now demanded that Lewis be stripped of his medals from Seoul, although the International Olympic Committee has no plans to review the situation because it has a statute of limitation set at three years. Lewis’s reply to Johnson is quite remarkable given the circumstances: “Do you expect him to say anything different?” said Lewis. “I mean we’re talking about Ben Johnson. Come on. Let’s be realistic.” Reality would appear to be a concept that Carl Lewis finds hard to grasp, even as recently as 2008 Lewis was indirectly questioning Usain Bolt’s integrity: “Countries like Jamaica do not have a random program, so they can go months without being tested. I'm not saying anyone is on anything, but everyone needs to be on a level playing field.”

Lewis has admitted to testing positive in the US Trials in 1988 before Seoul and I realise that the USADA did not have authority until after the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and Lewis retired in 1997, which complicates the matter but the USADA was assembled as an independent organization to change the old mentality that existed in the Carl Lewis days where the National Olympic Committees had too much to lose by exposing cheaters. The USADA has nothing to lose by exposing the cheaters, whereas the USOC had a lot to lose. It just seems strange to me that Wade Exum’s exposed athletes were swept therefore swept under the carpet as the Exum revelations came to light under the USADA’s jurisdiction.

Lance Armstrong underwent the most stringent examination of any sportsman and if his seven titles are to be awarded to the runners up then surely it’s only fair that the beneficiaries should be subjected to the same degree of scrutiny that Armstrong has been subjected to, as the USADA obviously believe the testing at the time was flimsy and inadequate. I feel sure that the USADA wouldn’t like to see a repeat of the Ben Johnson situation where the beneficiary of the reversal was ultimately revealed to be drugs cheat. The USADA handed out their first sanctions in 2001 and I find it strange that they have never condemned a man proven to be a drugs abuser, yet have carried out a campaign against Armstrong with a vigour that the inquisitors would have been proud of. Armstrong was never one of my favourite sportsmen but the incredible work he has done for cancer charities in the past few years can only be commended and the big fear is that the negative publicity will impact on his ability to raise funds for a cause that indirectly affects everyone.

The testimony of Tyler Hamilton in particular is pretty damning against Lance Armstrong, but the fact is that Armstrong never failed one of the hundreds of drugs tests he was subjected to, yet the USADA has decreed that he has been stripped of his titles, running roughshod over the ICU, cycling’s ruling body, even though they have no right to do so. If they can hand down a lifetime ban to Armstrong after he has retired from cycling (although he still competes in Iron man events) and expunge his achievements from the record books then it beggars the question, why did they never do the same to Lewis and the other 113 guilty sportsmen?

Fair or not?

Should Carl Lewis be stripped of his titles and medals.

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    • markfo profile image

      markfo 4 years ago from Middlesex, England

      Amazing revelations about LA in the past few days. came across as very clinical in the Oprah interview.

    • markfo profile image

      markfo 5 years ago from Middlesex, England

      Hi Suzette, apologies for not replying earlier, your reply managed to slip through the net un-noticed for some reason. At least you were aware of the fact that he had failed a drugs test, most sports fans are totally unaware of the facts, it's strange how it wasn't seismic news on this side of the Atlantic, in fact it wasn't even a tremor.

      All the best Mark

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 5 years ago from Taos, NM

      The whole situation is sad. The information about Carl Lewis is very interesting - I had forgotten about all his drug testing woes. Thanks for an interesting article.