Fast Floyd And The Culture Of Cheating

Bobby Curran
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Friday - August 04, 2006
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The recent developments surrounding Tour de France winner Floyd Landis make it apparent that we are far from an end resolution regarding performance-enhancing drugs.

After becoming one of the great sports stories of the year by competing with a degenerative hip condition that will shortly result in a replacement, Landis led the tour before a disastrous 16th stage that took him over eight minutes out of the lead and seemingly out of contention. The very next day Landis again cycled into the mountains and put on what many have called the greatest performance in modern cycling history, moving him within 30 seconds of the lead and setting the stage for his eventual triumph.

It appeared that cycling was in for a spiritual rebirth, far removed from the contentious reign of record-setting champion Lance Armstrong, and far from the pre-race disqualification of several leading contenders in yet another doping scandal. Finally, it seemed, a champion made of the right stuff, a role model about whom there had been nary a whisper of impropriety.

So it seemed even more shocking when Swiss-based Team Phonak announced that Landis had tested positive for an unacceptable ratio of testosterone/epitestosterone in his “A sample.” Team Phonak immediately suspended him, and Landis wasted no time in issuing the all-too-familiar denials.

At first blush, the disappointment and even anger of cycling officials and enthusiasts seemed to declare Landis guilty, even though his “B sample” has yet to be tested. But an examination of the science here yields more questions than answers.

World Anti-Doping Agency regulations limit the ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone to 4:1. It was formerly 6 :1, but has been adjusted downward. The ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone in a normal person is 1:1. Testosterone is produced naturally in the body, but is included as an anabolic steroid on WADA’s list of banned substances, and a positive test for its use is punishable by a two-year ban. Now, here’s the problem.

“Testosterone can build muscle and improve recovery time when used over a period of several weeks,” said Dr. Gary Wadler, a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency and a spokesperson for the American College of Sports Medicine.

But if Landis had been a user, his earlier tests during the tour would have been affected, and they weren’t.

“So something’s missing here,” Wadler said. “It just doesn’t add up.”

Even if Landis wanted to cheat, does it make sense that he would take a substance mid-race that wouldn’t take effect until weeks later?

No, it doesn’t.

And if you accept the premise that Landis is far too smart to ingest a substance that wouldn’t do him any good, you’re left several belief options, none of them attractive.

Is the test unreliable?

Or is sabotage possible?

A number of people are expressing the viewpoint that fluctuations in testosterone to epitestosterone can be explained by other means such as interaction with legal medications.

As to sabotage, while neither Landis nor his defenders have made this claim, it has been made by other athletes in various sports, and you can well imagine it’s possible.

With Justin Gatlin now facing a lifetime ban for a positive test in April, his denial would appear to allow for the consideration of sabotage.

“I have never knowingly taken, or allowed anyone else to administer to me any banned substance,” Gatlin said.

There is a strong probability that barring a clean B sample for Landis, the Tour de France champion will be determined in a courtroom.

For those sports fans who for so long have seen winners crowned on fields, courts, courses and in stadiums, the day may soon be coming where champions are mostly determined in legal proceedings.

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