On Thursday, Lance Armstrong announced that he would not pursue arbitration in the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s (USADA) case against him, effectively conceding to charges that he used and trafficked performance-enhancing drugs (PED) on his way to seven consecutive Tour de France victories.
Given Armstrong’s concession, USADA has moved forward in its efforts to strip the cycling legend of his seven victories as well as a bronze medal from the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.
Moreover, the agency, which administers the World Anti-Doping Code within the U.S., will bar Armstrong from competing in any event sanctioned by a World Anti-Doping Code signee. This includes Ironman triathlons, the grueling all-day endurance races in which Armstrong had been competing to promote his Livestrong Foundation.
At first blush, it is exceptionally bizarre to witness the man who embodied “never say die” in his fight against – well – everything, roll over and quit (although he had alluded to the possibility in a magazine interview in June).
Beyond the surprise and the unsettling feelings, however, there are a few ways to make sense of the latest development in the Armstrong doping saga. On a procedural level, barring any pushback from the Olympic Committee and Tour de France organizers, Armstrong’s achievements will be expunged from the record — and he will no longer be a Tour de France champion or an Olympic medalist.
On a strategic level, the Armstrong concession can be viewed as a win for both Armstrong and USADA. For Armstrong, he has bowed out in a way that will allow him to maintain his reputation, endorsements, and friendships. Full arbitration would have surely led to a drawn-out session of brutal finger-pointing testimony with witnesses that could have included close friends and former teammates.
The potential for damning testimony from some of cycling’s most beloved athletes, like George Hincapie, would have been devastating for both Armstrong and the sport. Armstrong and his legal team did, however, use the pre-arbitration window to publicly question the authority, legitimacy, and constitutionality of USADA and its investigation.
For USADA, the organization has finally K.O.’ed the man they have chased doggedly since 2010 (when Armstrong’s former teammate and admitted doper, Floyd Landis, publicly floated doping allegations against Armstrong). From the agency's perspective, justice has been served, and a high-profile example has been made in the struggle to eliminate PEDs from sports.
From a broader perspective, it is unclear how USADA’s “victory” affects Lance Armstrong’s legacy. For those who consider “It’s Not About the Bike” to be a sacred text in the religion of endurance sports, Armstrong’s indestructible will and relentless drive maintain much of their awesomeness, even if the “Doping Chapter” was left out of the story.
For the many who have benefitted from the efforts of the Livestrong Foundation, USADA’s case appears to have little bearing on the gratitude they feel towards Armstrong (according to an Armstrong tweet on Friday, donations to the foundation are way up).
For those who continue to withhold judgment, the USADA case certainly reinforces existing questions, but has yet to provide new clarity to controversy. Meanwhile, the World Anti-Doping Agency, the International Cycling Union, and the International Olympic Committee will review USADA’s evidence independently in the coming weeks.
From there, USADA will make its full case against Armstrong public, and Tyler Hamilton’s tell-all book, The Secret Race, will be released on September 18, 2012 (a date that notably coincides with Armstrong’s 41st birthday). Stay tuned.