Recently at my kids’ school, at the outdoor amphitheater with the sun shining bright in the brilliant blue of an October California morning sky, I had the privilege of moderating a panel at which four U.S. Olympians spoke about dreams, goals, hard work, and effort.
Steve Lewis, the 1988 gold medalist in the 400 meters, delighted everyone with the tale of how he won when nobody thought he could. Courtney Mathewson talked about how the 2012 U.S. women’s water polo team came together to win gold for the very first time. Nicole Davis, the U.S. women’s volleyball libero, spoke about how persistence and effort had driven her and the team to silver in 2008 and 2012. And, Alexi Lalas, who played on the 1992 and 1996 soccer teams and is now an ESPN analyst, reminded everyone that winning is not everything. It is the taking part. It is the struggle, the journey. It is — the dream.
At the end of the program, we allotted 20 minutes for photos and autographs. You should have seen the kids, and even the grownups, rush down with their iPhones, their cameras, and their pens and paper.
It is important to put all of that front and center on a day like Wednesday, when the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) set forth in black and white the details of the “overwhelming” case against Lance Armstrong. It is far too easy to make the case against Armstrong what, on one level, it is: a simple, legal matter. But, that is not what it is about. It is about something much, much bigger. It is about changing the culture of sport. That change has to happen so that we can all get back to what really matters: dreams, goals, autographs, and pictures.
Doping is cheating. Cheating is wrong. There is no grey there. Only by breaking through the code of silence in cycling, the “omertà,” and getting those who had made bad choices to acknowledge them — that, from the start, has always been USADA’s ambition.
The document made public Wednesday marks a major step forward. To be clear, none of the evidence detailed by USADA was obtained by the U.S. grand jury inquiry in Los Angeles, involving Armstrong that was closed in February without the filing of any charges. Again — none. USADA said Wednesday it had asked for copies of non-grand jury evidence, but has gotten nothing. Instead, it said, after that inquiry closed it launched its own and came to an unequivocal conclusion: “… Lance Armstrong and his handlers engaged in a massive and long running scheme to use drugs, cover their tracks, intimidate witnesses, tarnish reputations, lie to hearing panels and the press and do whatever was necessary to conceal the truth.”
The evidence against Armstrong, USADA emphasized, is “beyond strong; it is as strong as, or stronger than, that presented in any case” in USADA’s 12-year existence. USADA got to that point by offering everyone the same proposition: Cycling has a doping problem. Meet with us. Change the culture. Be part of the solution. Others took them up on that offer: Frankie Andreu, Michael Barry, Tom Danielson, Tyler Hamilton, George Hincapie, Floyd Landis, Levi Leipheimer, Stephen Swart, Christian Vande Velde, Jonathan Vaughters, and David Zabriskie. Armstrong did not.
The level of detail in the USADA document can be astonishing. In 1999, Hamilton told USADA that Armstrong won the Tour by using the banned blood-booster EPO “every third or fourth day.” In 2000, with rumors of a new test for EPO abounding, Hamilton said that 500 cc’s of blood taken out earlier that year at a hotel in Valencia, Spain, went back in on the evening of Tuesday, July 11, in the Hôtel l’Esplan in Saint-Paul-Trois- Châteaux near Mount Ventoux; Hamilton said that he, Kevin Livingston, and Armstrong — the three best hill-climbers on the team, and thus, the three who were getting the transfusions — “joked about whose body was absorbing the blood the fastest.”
Hincapie, meanwhile, is a five-time Olympian, long considered Armstrong’s most trusted lieutenant and the only rider with Armstrong on all seven of Armstrong’s winning Tour teams from 1999-2005. USADA said Hincapie testified that he was aware of Armstrong’s use of the bloodbooster EPO and blood transfusions; that Armstrong provided EPO to him, Hincapie, for his own use; that Hincapie, like Armstrong, was a client of the Italian Dr. Michele Ferrari, who incorporated EPO and blood-doping into Hincapie’s training program. On his own website, Hincapie issued a statement that said he had doped but been clean since 2006. Two years ago, he said, he had been approached by U.S. federal investigators; more recently, by USADA. He said he “understood that I was obligated to tell the truth about everything that I knew. So that is what I did.”
Ferrari is blandly described in the document as a “consultant” to pro cyclists. The evidence, according to USADA, further includes banking and accounting records from a Swiss company controlled by Ferrari reflecting more than $1 million in payments by Armstrong; extensive e-mails back and forth between Ferrari and his son and Armstrong during a time period when Armstrong claimed not to be in touch; and a “vast amount of additional data,” including lab test results and expert analysis of Armstrong’s blood work.
Vande Velde, in a statement on his website posted Wednesday, said, “Ironically, I never won while doping. I was more or less treading water. This does not make it ok. I saw the line and I crossed it, myself. I am deeply sorry for the decisions I made in the past — to my family, my fans, my peers, to the sport that I love, and those in and out of it — I’m sorry. I always will be.”
Barry, in a statement posted Wednesday on his site, said, “As a boy, my dream was to become a professional cyclist who raced at the highest level in Europe.” He signed his first contract with the U.S. Postal team in 2002: “Soon after, I realized reality was not what I had dreamed. Doping had become an epidemic problem in professional cycling.” He went on to say that he doped, he regretted it, and in 2006 he became a “proponent of clean cycling,” adding, “I apologize to those I deceived … I will work hard to regain people’s trust.”
It would have been unthinkable to see such confessions made public even just weeks ago — before USADA’s case against Armstrong. The USADA document released Wednesday, formally called a “reasoned decision,” runs to more than 200 pages. It will be further dissected, and appropriately, in the days and weeks to come. What matters most is that it’s out there. As it says on page five: “It is important that facts relating to doping not be hidden from public view so that there is confidence in case outcomes and sport can learn from each case.”
The Sport Intern in a blog produced by Karl-Heinz Huba in Lorsch, Germany. Mr. Huba can be reached via email at ISMG@aol.com. This article is reprinted here with the permission of Mr. Huba.