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Yearender: Armstrong falls from grace as fight agaisnt doping gears up

Souce:Xinhua Publish By Updated 18/12/2012 3:55 am in Sport / no comments


By Sportswriter Ma Xiangfei

BEIJING, Dec. 17 — There was an Armstrong walking on the moon. There is an Armstrong crash-landing into dirt.

On the same day when people mourned and paid tribute to Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon who died on August 25 at age 82, Lance Armstrong, one of cycling’s greatest heroes, fell from his throne, being labelled as a dope cheat for the past decade or so.

Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace, surely the biggest anti-doping news of the year, put cycling in crisis.

A 1,000-page report released by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in October, not only justified the stripping of Armstrong’s seven Tour de France titles and a lifetime ban on August 25, but also exposed many doping secrets in professional cycling.

The International Cycling Union (UCI) had to ratify USADA’s punishment on the 41-year-old Texan after reading the report which includes detailed and precise testimonies from 11 Armstrong’s former U.S. Postal Service and Discovery Channel teammates, picturing him as a frequent EPO and blood transfusion user and a bully to pressure his teammates to do the same.

Doping doctors and team managers also played roles in what the report called the “most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program the sport has ever seen”.

This stunning revelation of rampant use of banned drugs in professional cycling scared off and angered sponsors — Rabobank withdrew its 20 million U.S. dollars backing of Dutch Rabobank team while Australian sportswear company Skins sued UCI, claiming its brand has been damaged by backing the sport for five years.

It pushed the UCI to set up an independent panel, formed by experts outside cycling, to probe into the organization’s handling in the Armstrong case, which was seen as a step toward reform, in their efforts to regain credibility.

The case also sent out a warning that more powerful measures should be taken in the fight against doping.

“I think what (the) Armstrong (case) tells me is, bubbling away below the surface there are still problems that could surface at any time,” World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) head John Fahey was quoted by the Associated Press in mid-November.

In the wake of the Armstrong case, the Dutch cycling federation established a commission to probe the “culture of doping” in the sport and the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) decided to force all future Australian Olympic athletes and officials to sign a declaration revealing any past use of performance-enhancing drugs. That could affect whether they compete, and those who lie could face jail terms.

The AOC, however, thought they should get more authorities by asking the government to give their anti-doping agency more investigative capabilities, a point shared by the Chinese anti-doping agency.

“The Armstrong case once again warned us that doping program is getting more sophisticated, so more effective measures besides tests are necessary in catching drug cheats nowadays,” said Zhao Jian, deputy head of China Anti-Doping Agency.

“The measures must be smart and powerful to dig out the truth because the doping athletes is only one ring in the chain, which means we need more investigative capabilities,” he said.

“We need more authorities to compel the violators to give evidence and make them bear legal consequences if they lie,” he added.

Although test alone is far from enough, it remains a major measure in cracking down on doping even if dopers can not be found at the time, they may get caught eight years later.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) disqualified four Athens Olympics participants — shot put gold medalist Yuriy Bilonog of Ukraine, hammer throw silver medalist Ivan Tskikhan of Belarus and women’s bronze medalists shot putter Svetlana Krivelyova of Russia as well as discus thrower Irina Yatchenko of Belarus after their samples were further tested earlier this year and came back positive for steroids.

“Athletes who cheat by using doping substances must understand that just because they get away with it one day, there is a very good chance that they will be caught in the future,” Fahey said in a statement. “The retesting and subsequent decisions of the IOC are proof of that.”

The IOC stores samples for eight years and reanalyzes them once new, reliable testing methods are available.

The IOC, however, has not taken away Armstrong’s 2000 Sydney Games bronze medal as their lawyers are studying whether the Code’s eight-year statute of limitations applies in this case.

In addition to tests and investigation, severe punishment always serves as a deterrent to doping, which WADA decided to enhance.

WADA, an international body to coordinate world anti-doping action, plans to double the standard two-year penalty in the next edition of its global Anti-Doping Code.

The proposal to double penalty for use of steroids, human growth hormone and other serious doping substances and methods, will come up for approval next year and the revised Code will go into effect in 2015.

If approved, the measure will prevent drug cheats from at least one Olympics.

The proposal was welcomed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), who had tried to bar doping athletes banned more than six months from attending the following Olympics but the rule was thrown out by the Court of Arbitration last year because it did not comply with the WADA code.



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