Champion Lance Armstrong has always defied the odds

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The U.S. Anti-doping Agency (USADA) has picked a fight with seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.

Bad move.

Taxpayer-funded bureaucrats have lined up former teammates to strike deals in which they anonymously accuse Armstrong of doping during the years he rode to victory in the Tour. Apparently, cycling is rife with use of performance-enhancing drugs like testosterone and endurance-boosting erythropoietin (EPO). On Monday, Armstrong’s legal team fought back with a complaint in U.S. district court in the western district of Texas alleging that the USADA is engaged in “an obsessive, unlawful, and meritless complaint to strip him of his Tour titles and ruin his legacy.”

It is a legacy that includes the establishment of a foundation to help cancer survivors and those, including children, who are battling the disease.

On Tuesday it was announced that two doctors and a trainer who worked with the U.S. Postal Service team–the team Armstrong stuck with, despite more lucrative offers from numerous other teams after he started winning–for his seven Tour de France competitions because they gave him a shot after he beat testicular cancer, have been banned from treating cyclists because they peddled performance enhancing drugs.

Readers of Armstrong’s book, “It’s Not about the Bike,” in which he recounted some of his quest to overcome stage-4 testicular cancer, compete, and win the toughest cycling contest in the world will recall that he does reference the use of these drugs by some competitors. He states clearly in the book (here I paraphrase) that, given the excruciating nature of his battle with cancer and his battle to survive, he would never be tempted to put into his body anything that could likely compromise his health.

In the book he recounts the hundreds of drug tests–some at random, including one that took place when agents showed up at his home the morning after the birth of his twin daughters–all of which he passed.

So, in addition to his word, there is the lack of evidence that Armstrong has ever doped and, to the contrary, the weight of evidence to suggest that he’s clean. On top of those points, it should be remembered that everything about Lance Armstrong’s post-cancer career was thought to be an impossibility. In fact, his survival itself was dismissed as impossible by many “experts.” Remember: this is an individual who survived stage four testicular cancer. Not stage one, two, or three. Stage four–a point at which odds of survival are tiny. Not only did he survive, he went on to beat the odds and win the world’s most competitive cycling championship not once, not twice, but seven times.

He explained in his book that the reason his cancer went undetected for so long was his extremely high pain tolerance. (He attributed pain in his groin and other symptoms to “normal” wear-and-tear on his body as part of training).

He refused to believe what the experts told him were the odds – and to make his own odds. As he states in his book (and again I paraphrase), he may not have been the world’s greatest athlete (as a boy he dreamed of playing football and baseball professionally) but he chose cycling –an endurance sport–because he knew in his heart that he could endure a level of suffering and pain beyond the range of “normal” and keep his eye on the goal: winning. He is a fierce competitor, by his own admission not an easy personality, but also by his own testimony not a cheat or a liar. Moreover, his uncommonly tenacious spirit may not, in and of itself, account for his remarkable survival in the world of competitive cycling and in the world generally: he is clearly a rare physical specimen.

To put it plainly: he has a remarkably strong physical constitution. He would have had to, in order to survive stage 4 testicular cancer and go on to compete professionally at anything, much less win the Tour seven times.

Given that every element of his story–including his very survival–is remarkable, if not miraculous, it so impossible that he bested the world’s toughest competitors without the aid of performance-enhancing drugs?

At every stage of his post-cancer career, critics said he couldn’t do it–and he did.

The USADA and others–including some of his former teammates, who apparently were offered immunity from charges of doping themselves, as well as anonymity –are trying to tear him down. It seems they can’t believe –or won’t believe–that his remarkable, miraculous seven-time victories could be real. But really, in Lance Armstrong’s life, is the strident disbelief of critics anything new?

Not to mention that, if indeed his accusers are men of character–willing to take responsibility for themselves in coming forward and admitting to doping–why would they not waive their anonymity in making these accusations?

A bunch of men –human, fallible men, who can do so with anonymity–say Lance Armstrong doped. As of now, their say so is the only “evidence” I’m aware of. Armstrong — also a man, human and fallible –says he did not.

The weight of evidence is on his side. So is the weight of a character forged in suffering that gave him a compassion to help others with cancer that, he explains in his book, he believes he never would have attained had he not overcome the disease.

It’s been said that one man with courage is a majority, and it would be a gross understatement to say Lance Armstrong hasĀ  beaten the odds many times before.

In a “they said” “he said” contest between a towering figure of moral and physical singularity and a bunch of other guys (who got offered deals letting them accuse him anonymously), my money’s on Lance Armstrong to weather this storm.

Let us ask that when he does, he will remember the supporters who stood by him during these dark days, and continue to remember the many individuals stricken with cancer whose fates have become intertwined with his.

This entry was written by and posted on July 10, 2012 at 8:10 pm and filed under Blog.