Lance Armstrong is a Jerk

lanceThe headlines should read “Lance Armstrong is a jerk!” That’s the beginning, middle and the end of anything else ever written about the guy — and not because he pedaled his ass over the Pyrenees higher than the Matterhorn. At this point, who cares? Come to find out, most of the cyclists at the Tour de France have so many drugs in them, their pee has been patented by Dow Chemical. Here’s an interesting fact: since 1980, France’s most prestigious bicycle race has been won 17 times (that we know of) by the gentlemanly use of performance-enhancing drugs – that’s over half! So, it’s not like doping is unusual. Nor is he a jerk just for lying about it. What was he going to do … admit it? That would be like Al Capone phoning Eliot Ness to admit he owned a couple of speakeasies. No, Lance Armstrong is a jerk because he thinks he’s smarter than the rest of us. The unfortunate thing is he might be right.
The sordid details of Mr. Armstrong’s misdeeds have been reported to death, so there’s no need to retrace them here. Suffice it to say that Lance concocted an elaborate chemical scheme to turn himself into a superhuman. It succeeded beyond his wildest expectations, and he basked in glory for many, many years – collecting the accolades, admiration and cold, hard cash that come with athletic success. However, Lance didn’t stop there. He wasn’t content with two, four or even six championships: he wanted seven, and when he got that he even tried for eight. The audacity of the man is unbelievable. There he was, year after year, doing things no human being (not even his drug-bloated competition) could accomplish and smiling about it. What did he think? No one would notice? Or, did he simply believe that he could fool the entire world forever? These are rhetorical questions that only Mr. Armstrong himself can answer; which brings us to January 2013, nearly 14 years after Lance first sacrificed his honour for Tour de France laurels. Tomorrow, he’s going to sit down in front of the world and confess his sins. And we’re all waiting to hear it.
However, there will be no ordinary press conference for Lance Armstrong. Helance1 will not be relegated to a shame-faced confession and a couple of sincerity tears that get slotted into the morning news — after the headlines, traffic and weather. Lance is going prime time, and the three-ring media circus he’s hauling with him is being brought to you by the 20st century’s Uber Agony Auntie, Oprah Winfrey. In an ingenious attempt at reviving two faded careers, Lance and Oprah have organized an interview extravaganza. This two-night stand is designed to put them both back, wall-to-wall, on video screens around the world. It’s an arrangement made in public relations heaven.
Ever since Oprah decided she needed a whole network because (a la Norma Desmond) she was big and it’s only the television stations that got small, she’s fallen out of the sky. Like it or lump it, her audience numbers just aren’t there, anymore. Even, in an election year, Barack and Michelle couldn’t rekindle the old Midwest magic. So Oprah has unleashed her formidable Harpo publicity machine to tease the world into believing a guy who rides a bicycle is big news. They’re treating it like some magnificent media mating with hints, innuendos and voyeur-style sneak previews. I’m no follower of Freud, but Oprah herself is quoted by the BBC as saying, “At the end of it…we were both pretty exhausted. And I would say I was satisfied.” Make of that what you will, but it certainly is intriguing.
For his part, I’m sure Lance is considering a seven-figure book deal to pay the legal bills when all the people he lied to come calling. Oprah’s celebrity (faded as it is) isn’t going to do him any harm there. Besides, who better to confess to than the High Priestess of Jell-o Journalism? It’s not like she’s going to ask him any hard questions like, “Did you think the French were morons?” Plus, as long as he doesn’t jump around on the sofa, she’s going to make him look good.
This Lance and Oprah show is almost guaranteed to go off the scale on the ratings meter. It’s become an event. So, at the end of the day, maybe Lance Armstrong is smarter than the rest of us. He’s never going to be treated like the smarmy little cheater he obviously is. He’s probably going to write a book and maybe even get a movie deal. In fact, after tomorrow, his future is going to look pretty damn good.
However, it doesn’t matter how many times he confesses to God and Oprah Winfrey. It doesn’t matter how many stagy tears collect in the corner of his eye or how much remorse (real or imagined) he says he feels. At the end of the day, he’s not about to give back any of the money he “earned.” And until he does that, he’s just a jerk.

Olympics: The Straight Dope!

And it shall follow as the night the day that there will be doping allegations at the Olympics.  The most recent concerns the Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen, who, according to what I saw, could have outrun Free Willy.  The only thing faster was the accusations of “hot sauce” which started flying before the other swimmers were even dry.  The story’s all over the Internet, so I’m not going to go into here.  Suffice it to say that Ye won the 400 metre something-or-other with enough time left over to order a pizza.  Pretty well anybody who saw the race said, “Hey! Wait a minute” and the debate was on.  Olympic debates are great events in themselves.  Even though no medals are awarded the competition is fierce.

The “Hey! Wait a minute” crowd made the opening move with Ye’s time over the last fifty metres was better than American male swimmer Ryan Lochte’s over the same distance.  (A good trick, regardless of what you think.)  They went on to point out that halfway through the race, Ye was so far back she couldn’t even see the other swimmer’s bubbles.  Yet she not only managed to made up that distance but was actually pulling away from the other swimmers.  They maintain that it’s impossible to close that kind of gap in a 400 metre race — even if you could swim that fast – which you can’t.  Basically, they strongly suggested that no swimmer outside of The Little Mermaid’s big sister could accomplish what Ye did without a little chemical assistance.

The “We won the Gold” crowd immediately countered with a three-pronged defence.  First of all, they said Chinese athletes are focused and competitively superior to other athletes.  They are not distracted by things like Michael Phelps’ bong.  Secondly, they maintain that Chinese training and nutrition is far better than anything lazy Westerners can come up with on their best day.  And thirdly, they asked, why is anybody accusing the Chinese of doping; the Americans use dope all the time.  Look at Ben Johnson (not technically an American, but he’ll do) and Marion Jones.  Oh, and, by the way, you’re a bunch of snarling racists for even bringing it up in the first place.

Obviously, points were scored on both sides.

Let’s cut the crap.  There are only two things going on here.  One, Ye Shiwen is a very, very, very good swimmer or two, Ms. Ye added some dolphin growth hormones to her Wheaties.  There’s no third road.  So, what is anybody going to do about it?  Probably nothing!  The anti-doping ship of sport left the harbour many years ago.  The IOC can yip all they want about zero tolerance, but when the anthems are being played, nobody’s hearing that song.  After all, a good percentage of the athletes competing in London have either failed drug tests or have been banned at some point themselves.  Besides, as long as Barry Bonds is still in the record books and Roger Clemens is walking around a free man, nobody west of Manhattan has any moral high ground to crawl up on.  The reality is without the weight of America to back it up, the IOC is spitting into the wind.

There is only one solution to doping in sports – genuine zero tolerance.  The IOC and every other governing body in sport (professional and “amateur”) need to take the “Hot Stove” approach.  If you fail a drug test, you and your coaches are put on notice that anyone can make a mistake.  However, nobody involved can participate in any sport at any level until you’re drug free.  If you fail a second drug test, you, your coaches, your trainers and everyone else right down to the ball girl are banned from all sports, in any capacity – for life.  You get one independent appeal (just in case) but after that, it’s see you later – go sell furniture.  With the kind of cash and prestige that’s on the line these days, the athletes would insist on being clean, and the coaches would demand it.  This may sound harsh, but at this point, there are so many drugs floating around upper echelon athletes that even Keith Richards is embarrassed.  The anti-doping bandaids that various sports are applying are simply never going to work.

At the end of the day, Ye Shiwen, enjoy your Gold Medals.  You probably worked very hard to get them.  All the rest of it is just a parlour game, played out over the media.  Everybody, from the World Record holder in Underwater Gymnastics to the eight-year-old kid kicking a ball around the schoolyard and dreaming of Olympic glory, knows that the anti-doping rules in sports are just a joke.