Thursday, July 27, 2006

We refuse the right to refuse service to anyone

Lance Armstrong was under a cloud of suspicion all those years he won one Tour de France after another -- after all, how could a cancer survivor pull off all those victories? While he has been repeatedly exonerated of any wrongdoing, the questions have remained; if for no other reason than he has consistently refused to compete in the real world championship -- a one day road race held in a different city every year -- preferring endurance marathons like the French competition and the Tour of America.

The suspicions persist because it's fairly easy to take performance enhancing drugs very early in a multi-day competition or just before it starts; so that by the end of the race, when nearly everyone is tested, the barbituates flush out of one's system making them almost impossible to trace.

The Americans have had a way of taking the high road, saying this is something other countries' atheletes do -- not Americans. After all, nine other contestants were kicked out of the tourney before it started and they weren't from the States. But this morning, this year's Tour winner, the US's Floyd Landis, tested positive for very high levels of testosterone in the preliminary "A" test. The "B" test is to follow to see if the hormone occurred "naturally" or was injected. This is causing quite a storm as I write these words; just days ago people in Paris were impressed by and even jubilant over Landis' come from behind win. He had been trailing by seven minutes a week ago today, then suddenly made a huge power surge.

And coming as it does on the tenth anniversary of Donovan Bailey's 100 m win at the Atlanta Summer Olympics, this is very bad news for sports in general. One would have hoped that we had finally turned the page, that drug use was no longer acceptable in professional and amateur sports and that even the pro leagues -- which had long considered drugs a matter for collective bargaining agreements -- were finally starting to clamp down on rogues.

If Landis winds up disqualified, it means an automatic two year suspension for him and certainly ridicule from his fellow Americans. But the broader repercussions could be huge. After a winter and spring of scandals including hockey players betting on other sports, a very controversial World Cup, game rigging in the Italian soccer league and continued questions about the authenticity of Barry Bond's slugging, I wonder how many more hits the athletic world can muster.

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