Armstrong still has eyes on the prize
ASPEN Lance Armstrong told a crowd of about 100 on Tuesday night that he believes 2006 Tour de France winner and former U.S. Postal Service teammate Floyd Landis is innocent. Sadly, Armstrong said, Landis likely will lose his arbitration hearing against the U.S. Anti Doping Agency after testing positive for abnormal levels of testosterone after a pivotal stage win last July.”I think conventional wisdom is that he will lose, because USADA has never lost a case,” said Armstrong, the guest speaker at an Aspen Ideas Festival health forum discussion CBS anchor Bob Schieffer moderated. “The arbitrators don’t ever rule for the athletes. Quite frankly the system is set up against the athletes. … Unfortunately for him, I don’t think he did it. That’s always been my position and still is today, but I’m not sure that’s he going to get a fair shake in this trial.”Wearing cowboy boots, form-fitting jeans and a tight black T-shirt, and sporting about 15 extra pounds from his racing days, the Texas native calmly answered every question Schieffer and the general public asked of him during the hour-long discussion, which covered a lot of familiar ground and had its share of light moments.The seven-time Tour de France winner has been in the news this week for a new book by Irish journalist David Walsh, which alleges Armstrong, along with his teammates, used creative doping methods to win his unprecedented seven Tour de France titles. It’s the third book by Walsh that make such claims and certainly is not the first time Armstrong has come under scrutiny for doping – allegations he said don’t keep him up at night.”I always hear about it, I always read it, and I always see it and it always makes me mad,” Armstrong said. “But you know what? I sleep every night like a baby. I know what I’ve been through, I know what I did and how I did it, I know the type of team I had. I believe that we were the best, and that’s the thing that gives me the confidence to go forward.
“The good news there is that the people I want to affect, the people that I want to influence, they do not care. They could write a million articles – that population of people does not care.”Armstrong also forcefully said his spotless record for drug testing during his streak of Tour wins proves his innocence. During the height of his fame, no athlete in the world was tested more, he said. He recounted one incident when doping officials arrived at his front door to test him while he and his pregnant wife were literally walking out the back door to head to the hospital so she could give birth.”They came in and I had to give a sample,” he said. “Imagine trying to explain that to your wife.” He also said the string of doping scandals that have humbled cycling as a sport are the result of a stronger commitment to testing than other sports. Other sports haven’t suffered as much because they don’t want to do the year-round testing that cycling has in place.”If you went to Major League Baseball and said, ‘We’re going to have random, unannounced, out-of-competition controls,’ they would tell you, ‘You’re crazy. No way we’re not playing another game.’ The NFL, they would never do that. NHL, no way. Golf, forget it. Tennis, forget it. Of course cyclists get tested more than anything else, and perhaps that’s why they get caught more than anyone else.”The one question that made Armstrong pause to collect his thoughts came from a young woman who asked if the seven-time Tour de France winner had any regrets.”Getting divorced,” said Armstrong, who fathered three children with his wife, Kristin. “I don’t think anybody ever goes into marriage thinking it’s not going to work out. It’s a very tough thing for everyone involved. You can’t look at divorce and put it in the [win] column, it has to go in the [loss] column.”
Armstrong made similar analogies to his successful fight against cancer, and his ongoing crusade to raise money and awareness to fight the disease.When first diagnosed with testicular cancer in October 1996, Armstrong said he knew little about the disease, and didn’t have the resources now available that enable patients to take ownership of their treatment.”I had an early [America Online] account, but there was no Google or anything like that,” he said. “If you had cancer, you were left to go to a bookstore, or read the packets at doctor’s offices, or ask friends and family and look for people who had cancer or knew people who did. It’s so much easier now to take charge and really, overnight, become a student of oncology.”Armstrong said he approached his diagnosis the way he approached competitors on the road.”I looked at it as if it was a race,” he said. “It was me vs. him, her, it, whatever you want to call it. I absolutely hated him, her or it and wanted to beat it, so when the tumor markers came back and there were less of them, I felt like I was winning. When the chest X-rays came back and the tumors were shrinking, again, I felt like I was winning. That was the scoreboard.”In the 10 years since he first started his foundation, Armstrong has raised $200 million for cancer research and prevention. More than $65 million of that amount has come from the yellow rubber “Livestrong” bracelets that sell for $1 apiece.Armstrong said he doubted the bracelets would ever make a significant impact before their debut in 2000. He was also superstitious of wearing a yellow bracelet before winning that year’s race.
It’s one of a handful of things, Armstrong said, where his first inclination was the wrong one.Another included not wanting to sign up with the U.S. Postal Service Team when he was ready to return to cycling. “It seemed like a weird sponsor, like riding for the IRS,” he joked. The best decision Armstrong said he ever made was to bank sperm before he had surgery to remove one of his testicles.”If I would have blown that off, I wouldn’t have had these three great gifts,” he said. “That’s a miracle right there, to be able to freeze something for five years, then thaw it out and to be able to create these three warm critters.”Armstrong then quipped: “Thankfully my son looks exactly like me, or else I might be a little worried.”Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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