When federal prosecutors declined to file any charges against seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong this past February, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) was quick to say the government’s decision wouldn’t affect their work either way.
“Unlike the US attorney, USADA’s job is to protect clean sport rather than enforce specific criminal laws,” USADA chief executive Travis Tygart said at the time. “Our investigation into doping in the sport of cycling is continuing and we look forward to obtaining the information developed during the federal investigation.”
Wednesday, USADA dropped the other shoe, alleging that Armstrong and his associates on the U.S. Postal Service and Discovery cycling teams were guilty of drug use and conspiracy.
Amy Shipley of the Washington Post broke the story, reporting that the charges included both familar, previously media-aired allegations dating back to 1998, but also new ones, with USADA saying it collected blood samples from him in 2009 and 2010 that were “fully consistent with blood manipulation including EPO use and/or blood transfusions.”
“The 12-year-old agency, which is funded jointly by the U.S. Olympic Committee and the federal government, almost never loses cases, though few athletes have the financial means or iconic status of Armstrong,” Shipley also wrote.
While USADA still has to prove its case, merely being under a formal investigation means Armstrong can no longer compete on the triathlon circuit, as he had been doing this year. He won his first race in Florida last month, and is currently in France, where he was expected to race on June 24 as part of the qualification process for October’s Ironman World Championship in Hawaii.
The World Triathlon Corporation had partnered with Armstrong to raise $1 million for the Lance Armstrong Foundation, but its rules prohibit athletes from competing during an investigation.
…intends to again dredge up discredited allegations dating back more than 16 years to prevent me from competing as a triathlete and try and strip me of the seven Tour de France victories I earned. These are the very same charges and the same witnesses that the Justice Department chose not to pursue after a two-year investigation. These charges are baseless, motivated by spite and advanced through testimony bought and paid for by promises of anonymity and immunity. Although USADA alleges a wide-ranging conspiracy extended over more than 16 years, I am the only athlete it has chosen to charge. USADA’s malice, its methods, its star-chamber practices, and its decision to punish first and adjudicate later all are at odds with our ideals of fairness and fair play.
I have never doped, and, unlike many of my accusers, I have competed as an endurance athlete for 25 years with no spike in performance, passed more than 500 drug tests and never failed one. That USADA ignores this fundamental distinction and charges me instead of the admitted dopers says far more about USADA, its lack of fairness and this vendetta than it does about my guilt or innocence.
Christine Brennan of USA Today had little sympathy for Armstrong, arguing:
Armstrong can whine and complain all he wants, but the organization that alleged Wednesday that he engaged in a massive doping conspiracy from 1998 to 2011 is just doing its job…
The agency, with its well-documented procedures and series of checks and balances, is exactly the right place for us to find out if one of the great icons of U.S. sport and culture is in fact a cheater.
That seems a bit strong actually–USADA is neither infallible nor immune from the same factors that lead to overzealous prosecution in the legal system. But Brennan also points out that “admitted cheaters Marion Jones and Mark McGwire, among others, also never failed a drug test.” And she remembers what Armstrong tweeted after the January 2011 Sports Illustrated story that included quotes from many of the same people who will now be part of USADA’s case:
— Lance Armstrong (@lancearmstrong) January 21, 2011