Lance Armstrong’s Only Sin Was Getting Caught

Lance ArmstrongThe furore over Lance Armstrong’s confession to Oprah, and by extension the world, of the fact he used performance enhancing drugs and blood doping to help him win his seven Tour de France titles, says more about the mass ignorance that surrounds the issue than it does about the integrity of Lance Armstrong. Indeed elite sport remains one of the few arenas of modern life where a massive gulf remains between public perception and reality. In other words the surprise is not that someone like Lance Armstrong was using performance enhancing drugs throughout his career, the surprise would have been if he had not.

Anyone with a basic knowledge of human physiology, nutrition, and high performance sports will know that elite athletes repeatedly transcend the limits of natural human potential both in their training and performance. Regardless of advances in science surrounding training, nutrition, and recovery, and regardless of genetics, it is impossible for the extraordinary feats of athletic and sporting performance we have become accustomed to witnessing on a regular basis without the aid of performance enhancing drugs. This at least is my contention.

The male hormone testosterone determines an individual’s natural level of strength, muscle mass, and aggression. The natural level of testosterone produced by a male in his peak years of physical development – from 18-21 – is around 6 mg per day. When it comes to growth hormone, essential for muscular development, a healthy immune system, bone density, growth, and cell regeneration, an average male’s levels drop off around the age of 30 by 1-2 percent per year, and by age 40 a man is naturally producing half of what he was at age 20. It is this decrease in GH that drives the ageing process.

Athletes are not average people. The stress they place on their muscular and skeletal systems, the demands placed on their cardiovascular system, and the impact this has on their central nervous system, is monumental. The ability to do so on a regular basis and recover makes the use of performance enhancing drugs, such as synthetic testosterone in its various forms, or growth hormone, not just desirable but essential for those whose aim is to compete at the highest level.

When it comes to Lance Armstrong and cycling in particular, the Tour de France is an event that requires those competing to smash through the limits of endurance, speed, and power time after time. Consequently the use of drugs and blood doping is almost required.

Just on the level of formal logic the stakes involved in professional sports – millions of dollars in prize money, endorsements etc for those at the top – fuels a win at all costs ethos, mirroring the emphasis on success that is so prevalent in society and sits at the apex of our cultural values.

Many serious athletes will view the taking of performance enhancing drugs as levelling the playing field. Moreover within the closed and highly pressurised world of competition, with its own values and understanding of what it takes to win, it will not be considered a big deal. Armstrong himself stated during his interview with Oprah that taking PEDs was as natural to him as putting air in his tires or water in his water bottle.

Viewed in this light it would be more shocking to find elite athletes who don’t or have never used them rather than those who do or have. Increasingly the challenge for those athletes who do use them is to remain one step ahead of advances in testing, though there are still sports, pro boxing in particular, in which the testing regime remains lax.

Ultimately Lance Armstrong’s sin lay in getting caught. His extraordinary success, magnified in his case by a successful battle with cancer, led to him becoming the prisoner of a public which demands that its sporting heroes jump higher, run faster, punch harder, and cycle faster while conforming to a level of moral purity and rectitude rendered impossible in a culture in which success and human virtue are considered two sides of the same coin.

Lance Armstrong’s achievement in winning the Tour de France seven times still stands as a remarkable feat worthy of the admiration and respect. More importantly, it is high time there was an honest conversation on the use of performance enhancing drugs in sport.

 

 

38 comments on “Lance Armstrong’s Only Sin Was Getting Caught

  1. Nicole Cooke just the other day said:
    “The sad thing is there were clean riders who had livelihoods and careers stolen from them by Lance and we’re probably not going to see those people vindicated in any way through this.”
    Armstrong was not just a drug taker but also a bully eg the way he treated Basson

  2. prianikoff on said:

    “…it is impossible for the extraordinary feats of athletic and sporting performance we have become accustomed to witnessing on a regular basis without the aid of performance enhancing drugs.”

    Sort of. But they’re not, as it were.
    Last year, a French sports researcher, Geoffroy Berthelot, found that 64 % of track and field world records have stood since 1993
    In swimming, performances stagnated in 47% of events after 1990, only rising again when new high-tech swimsuits were introduced.
    He argues that the pinnacle of athletic achievement was achieved around 1988.

    Armstrong seems to have believed he was ‘levelling the playing field’ by taking drugs.
    As he’d suffered from testicular cancer, I can understand why he might have taken androgens.
    His red blood cell count had also been affected by radiotherapy, which might explain taking synthetic EPO.

    What’s amazing is that he recovered and won all those races. Unfortunately, the drug abuse seems to have continued well beyond his recovery.
    He also lied about it persistently, so his non-doping competitors obviously feel aggrieved.

  3. Stephen on said:

    “Ultimately Lance Armstrong’s sin lay in getting caught.”

    Really?

    I suspect that if he had sued you in order to prevent you telling the truth… trashed your reputation to the worlds press and fraudulently obtained vast sums of damages by lying through his teeth about truths you’d told about how corrupt he was .. you might think otherwise.

    What next? A paen of praise about the News of the World and the startling achievement of being the biggest selling paper in the UK – by breaking the rules , but using only methods that were widespread in the elite world of tabloid publishing.

  4. “Lance Armstrong’s achievement in winning the Tour de France seven times still stands as a remarkable feat worthy of the admiration and respect.”

    No it isn’t. he deserves the utter derision he is getting. A most unpleasant individual.

    I think the effectiveness of drugs depends on the sport. In low skill sports and high physical sports such as cycling and running then drugs can have a major affect but in high skill sports, such as Football, where artistry and human creativity come into the equation, then drugs have less of an affect.

    I would still ban for life anyone who takes drugs though, in any sport. By accepting drugs you are forcing people to inject themselves with these substances, you would have young kids being injected with drugs if we went down the route of giving into drug cheats.

    Drug cheats should be treated like scum, spit at them in the streets, take all their money off them and force them into hard labour. That will cure the problem.

  5. Feodor on said:

    Marco:
    I think the effectiveness of drugs depends on the sport…

    That’s a very salient point. I’d even take it a step further, though I have no first-hand knowledge of the effects, I’d wager in sports where technique and intellect play a major role (basically any sport which isn’t just limited to one type of physical activity: running, cycling, jumping, hitting, etc.), the psychological negatives associated with doping actually undermine an athlete’s overall performance. The great boxers, after all, aren’t the ones with a really aggressive style, but those that employ a well-thought out scientific defence.

    The Klitschko’s are a good example, and part of the reason for their success is imo that they were trained in their youth in systems which didn’t face PPV pressure, thus there was no pressure to develop in way that pleases the ‘just bleed’ contingent of boxing fans. Their footwork, ability to keep distance and counter-fighting are all phenomenal – all things that require a great deal of mental energy and discipline.

    John makes a number of good points, but I agree the tone of the article is a bit dubious – Armstrong behaved like a pig, which makes it hard to excuse him.

    Alongside commercial pressures and levelling the already doped field argument, I’d add some other major causes: (1) too many sporting events on the calendar – some sports don’t even seem to have an off-season, and for years there have been voices in British football, e.g., which have been calling for a reduction in the length of a season; (2) a distinctly macho sporting culture where (minor) injuries are treated as something you push through, rather than something you recover from; (3) the pervasiveness of a sports science paradigm that is entirely focused on short-term gain over long-term health; (4) the relatively short time in which sportspeople are active, coupled with the long-term health problems they later face alongside an unclear financial future – more needs to be done to help low-level athletes in particular move on to other fields once they retire.

    Turning a blind eye can’t be the solution (I don’t think this is what the article proposes, but it can be read that way). Instead, there needs to be a sea-change in our cultural attitudes, both as athletes and spectators. One which values the integrity of participation as much as (or more than) winning, which marvels at basic technical proficiency over highlight-reel moments, that recognises that athletes are humans too and thus has some understanding of the incredibly strenuous things they force their bodies to do, etc.

  6. prianikoff: Last year, a French sports researcher, Geoffroy Berthelot, found that 64 % of track and field world records have stood since 1993
    In swimming, performances stagnated in 47% of events after 1990, only rising again when new high-tech swimsuits were introduced.
    He argues that the pinnacle of athletic achievement was achieved around 1988.

    I’m impressed at the effort you have put in to mining these stats. However, I’m not sure they are relevant or entirely germane to the subject being discussed.

    Surely you’re not suggesting that the domination enjoyed by Michael Phelps in Olympic swimming does not reflect a huge advance in the sport, or that similarly Usain Bolt’s domination of the 100 and 200 metres sprint events?

    The current 100 metres world record was set by him in 2009.

    Drugs along cannot make a champion, and I certainly would not make claims that any of the aforementioned have used PEDs, but as I write in the article the ability of the body to recover from the training required to reach the level of today’s top athletes cannot just be explained by improvements in the quality of protein supplements.

    prianikoff: Armstrong seems to have believed he was ‘levelling the playing field’ by taking drugs.
    As he’d suffered from testicular cancer, I can understand why he might have taken androgens.
    His red blood cell count had also been affected by radiotherapy, which might explain taking synthetic EPO.

    Race cycling is also highly anaerobic. It requires explosive power and the development of fast twitch muscle fibres. Anabolics help in this regard, as does GH.

    prianikoff: He also lied about it persistently, so his non-doping competitors obviously feel aggrieved.

    Of course he lied. He had to lie. He became a prisoner of his own success and the disjuncture that exists between reality and perception when it comes to what’s is involved in winning at the level of sport he was competing at.

    I don’t see it as cheating. I see it as levelling the playing field. When the difference between first and second on the podium can be millions of dollars the idea that athletes would not do whatever it takes to win is to my mind naive.

    I’ll wager that many of the athletes we view as icons, ambassadors, and heroes are using or have used PEDs. That said, to compete at the highest level in any sport still requires the kind of dedication, commitment, and self sacrifice that 99 percent of people could not even comprehend, much less replicate.

    Manny Pacquaio, in many people’s eyes the P4P best boxer in the world, moved up seven weight divisions in seven years and retained his speed and power. In my experience this just can’t be done naturally. Juan Manuel Marquez KO’d Pacquaio in his last fight. It was one of the most devastating KOs seen in the ring in a long time, even more so than Pac’s KO of Ricky Hatton in 2009. Marquez had gone up in weight for the fight. He wasn’t known for his power, and when he fought Mayweather Jnr in 2009 he looked small, smooth and flat. Suddenly, at the age of 39, he appears like a mini Hercules and takes out Pacquaio with one punch.

    Sport reflects the values and mores of society. It does not exist in isolation.

  7. Marco: No it isn’t. he deserves the utter derision he is getting. A most unpleasant individual.

    You know him personally, do you?

  8. Stephen: What next? A paen of praise about the News of the World and the startling achievement of being the biggest selling paper in the UK – by breaking the rules , but using only methods that were widespread in the elite world of tabloid publishing.

    To take this seriously would be to dignify stupidity. I’m sorry, I can’t do it.

  9. Feodor: The great boxers, after all, aren’t the ones with a really aggressive style, but those that employ a well-thought out scientific defence.

    In boxing an aggressive, come-forward style is a defence. George Foreman, Joe Frazier, Mike Tyson, Manny Pacquaio, Marvin Hagler, Tommy Hearns, the list is endless of top fighters known for their aggressive style.

    It’s not quite as simple as that. Styles make fights. Ali struggled with Joe Frazier, who got knocked out by Foreman, who got knocked out by Ali.

  10. Feodor on said:

    John, imo you’re wrong about Pacquaio.

    a) the differences between weight divisions are only a couple of pounds, thus even moving up several is not all that difficult. Compare that with MMA, where the difference between classes is 15 pounds or thereabouts, and where people regularly cut as much as 30 pounds in the lead up to a fight, some with the help of weight-cutting steroids, others just through dieting and/or keeping lean when not fighting, esp. by not putting on excess beach muscle.

    b) Speed and power in this context is subjective – I don’t think anyone’s actually tested his speed and power, they just see him fight and observe it’s the same. This is, moreover, not that surprising: gaining a couple of pounds doesn’t drastically alter your physical abilities.

    c) Pacquaio has an agressive style. Marquez is a crafty counter-puncher. In what was their fourth (?) fight, sooner or later you’d expect the counter-puncher to find the defensive hole. The brutality of the knockout had less to do with the velocity of Marquez’s punch, than it did with the velocity with which Pacquaio’s head was moving towards it. I don’t think there was anything unusual in this – soft counters often produce devastating knockouts if the aggressor is moving toward them.

    The guys you list were great boxers, no doubt, but I don’t think you’d find any/many of them in the elite of P4P listings – top 10, maybe top 20 even, with their rankings somewhat elevated by the fact that they fought within living memory. Plus, Frazier had a great lead left counter, Foreman employed his reach well, the young Tyson had far better footwork than people given him credit for, etc.

    But I agree that styles make fights: every style has its natural nemesis.

  11. Feodor on said:

    Joe Louis is still the most highly regarded heavyweight. Physically, he was quite limited. It was the Blackburn crouch, hand parries, etc., which made him great.

  12. Feodor on said:

    Also, Hagler had great head movement, Pacquaio is a southpaw (boxing cryptonite), though I’ve never really watched any of Hearns’ fights, so don’t know whether it was just his aggressive style or not. And Ali vs. Foreman is one of the most highly debated fights in boxing history – I think Foreman would have destroyed him if they ever fought again, though saying that doesn’t help my technique first argument. So I’ll shut up now! ;)

  13. Feodor: a) the differences between weight divisions are only a couple of pounds, thus even moving up several is not all that difficult.

    This is wrong. It normally takes a fighter a year to adjust to a new weight class. You move up you’re fighting bigger opponents. You don’t judge it by what a fighter weighs at the weigh-in. You judge it by what they weigh when they climb in the ring. Fighters can put upwards of a stone in weight on between the weigh-in and the fight.

    Pacman went up seven weight divisions in seven years. This has never been equalled in the history of the sport. A few pounds is a massive difference when it comes to punch resistance and strength.

    Look at the size difference between Pacquaio and De La Hoya. DLH was twice his size yet Pac punched him all over the ring. Same with Cotto; same with Margarito.

    It’s not just the power he retained, it was his speed, which is power.

    Feodor: n what was their fourth (?) fight, sooner or later you’d expect the counter-puncher to find the defensive hole.

    He found the ‘defensive hole’ in every one of their fights and he’d had Pac down before. But not like that. Have you see the punch? Yes, Pac walked into it, but regardless it was devastating and completely at odds with the power JMM has shown throughout his entire career up to then.

    Feodor: soft counters often produce devastating knockouts if the aggressor is moving toward them.

    Example?

    Feodor: The guys you list were great boxers, no doubt, but I don’t think you’d find any/many of them in the elite of P4P listings – top 10, maybe top 20 even, with their rankings somewhat elevated by the fact that they fought within living memory. Plus, Frazier had a great lead left counter, Foreman employed his reach well, the young Tyson had far better footwork than people given him credit for, etc.

    I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make. You made an assertion that the best boxers are those with a great defence. I think you’re wrong. Each of the fighters I mentioned are Hall of Famers. Hagler is one of the best middleweights ever seen. Foreman and Tyson similarly when it comes to the HWs.

    But it’s all subjective in the end. This would make a great conversation in the pub :)

  14. John: Example?

    Ali on Sonny Liston would be the most famous, but yeah the shot Marquez hit him with wasn’t “soft” by any sensible definition of the word.

  15. Feodor: though I’ve never really watched any of Hearns’ fights

    There’s plenty on Youtube, including the incredible 3 rounds vs. Hagler. Trust me, he wasn’t called the “Hitman” for nothing.

  16. Omar: Ali on Sonny Liston would be the most famous,

    Yes, but the conjecture over Ali’s famous ‘anchor punch’ in their second fight is that Liston took a dive under instructions from the mob, who controlled him.

    I’ve seen a tape of the fight with sound included. The crowd erupts into a crescendo of booing, chanting ‘fix, fix’ fix’.

    Liston took a dive. Nick Tosches excellent Liston biography ‘Night Train’ examines the fight in detail, the circumstances surrounding it, and makes this assertion.

  17. John,

    I’ve heard that assertion but ,I dunno, Liston looked pretty out of it. He must’ve been a fine actor if that’s the case. And I suspect the crowd reaction was from those who had their money on Liston! :)

  18. Omar: ’ve heard that assertion but ,I dunno, Liston looked pretty out of it. He must’ve been a fine actor if that’s the case. And I suspect the crowd reaction was from those who had their money on Liston!

    Again, a great topic for the pub. You and Feodor can stand me a drink each :)

  19. Stephen on said:

    John you are a journalist..supposing you had found out the truth about armstrong – would you have written about it?

    Or supposing you had uncovered the corrupt way he was using legal muscle and the threat of ruin to keep people quiet – would you have reported that?

    Obviously if you had Armstrong would have sued you to shut you up. Were you facing the sack because of one of Mr Armstrong’s(highly lucrative ) fraudulent statements. Would you consider that a ‘real sin’?

  20. Feodor on said:

    John: This is wrong. It normally takes a fighter a year to adjust to a new weight class.

    I think you’re making a bit too much out of this. Certainly among the most talented boxers, I don’t think the adjustment period is that great, and they’ll still make mincemeat of people who are much bigger than them. Technique over physique.

    But you may well be right that widespread steroid use has made this a lot easier.

    John:
    Have you seen the punch?

    Yeah, twas a beaut. But I still don’t think it that surprising that a person with what, 20 years experience in ring and gym, would get a flash knockout like that. It was the perfect storm, aided in no small part by Pacquaio’s over confidence.

    Like many top fighters who’ve reached their peak, Pacquaio’s style has been degenerating, becoming more focused on wild aggression and far less well-rounded – i.e. he’s stopped setting stuff up and started head-hunting instead. Sooner or later someone was going to do that to him, esp. if he was over-familiar with that someone and had little respect for their power.

    John:
    Example?

    Can’t think of any boxing ones right now, I’m more an MMA fan. But here’s a few, complete with clips:

    Chuck Liddell vs Rich Franklin (a perfect example, no?) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yM2DhMEVb3Q

    Fedor Emelianenko vs Andrei Arlovski (admittedly it’s an overhand right, which is a strong punch in itself) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nl5MzD-X7z8

    Manhoef vs Lawler (great fight, watch the ending carefully on the later replays, Manhoef just starts moving his head in, was about to throw something, perfect counter) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zu9Uw63eXL8

    These are just a couple of examples which I can remember off hand and find videos of. E.g., I seem to remember Peter Aerts being KOed really badly in K1 by running into a punch – no idea who he was fighting, too many fights to wade through.

    Another really good example of the kind of power that you can generate by just using your opponents forward motion against them, though not in this case resulting in a KO, is Anderson Silva vs Forest Griffin: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uWqA88T8ews

    If you’re in the mood for excessive violence, search ‘best KOs’ on YouTube, I’m sure you’ll find plenty of examples.

    John:
    You made an assertion that the best boxers are those with a great defence. I think you’re wrong.

    I think you’re right. I should have said the best are the ones with great technique rather than a brawling style. My own view is that good defensive technique should be more highly rated than offensive – it’s not about hitting someone else, but not getting hit yourself would be my mantra. (My own, limited striking experience is mainly in Karate, where this mindset dominates.)

    But to go back to the original point I was trying (and failing!) to make, it’s that steroid use might make you hit harder and faster, but it will dull your senses and make you wild. And I’d favour the technically sound offensive or defensive fighter not on steroids, over the wild brawler that was on them any day of the week. It’s about gauging distance, picking your moments, not gassing, etc. – I really don’t think steroid use helps in any of these things, but probably detracts from them.

    But you are right that ‘it’s all subjective in the end’ in terms of how we view styles. I’m up for the pub, but you’re buying! ;)

    Omar:…the shot Marquez hit him with wasn’t “soft” by any sensible definition of the word.

    ‘Soft’ in the sense that it wasn’t a typical knockout punch – a big overhand, uppercut, cross-counter, lead left counter, etc. – where you get all your bodyweight behind it. I was more like an improvised hook which, watching it again, came as much from the shoulder as it did the hips – he hit Pacquaio with a couple of harder punches just before that, the difference was Pacquaio saw those coming and didn’t duck his head into them. Obviously the force wasn’t ‘soft’! I mean even at 50% power a pro boxers jab would put most of us on the floor, yet it’s a ‘soft’ punch by contrast with some of the others in their arsenal.

    On Liston-Ali, no opinion either way, but with regard the betting, I do know the lines were fixed to strongly favour Liston. I suspect those on the inside knew Ali was good, but prevented that information from filtering out so that they could make a killing. Afaik, that was a quite common practice among Mafia people involved in boxing. There’s even a name for it, which off-hand I can’t recall.

  21. Tokyo Nambu on said:

    Armstrong sued Emma O’Reilly, who’d worked on his team. He called her a drunk and a prostitute. He now admits that the precise story she had told was precisely and exactly true.

    Now in John Wight land, and indeed in Socialism land, rich men accusing women of being whores and then suing them to extract false apologies is now presumably OK. But for the rest of us, it’s a mark of a total shit.

  22. jim mclean on said:

    Self induced cancer. I believe the drugs Armstrong was taking create a 40% chance of getting testicular cancer and David Walsh states in his book it was self induced. He still took drugs after the diagnosis.
    http://espn.go.com/espn/story/_/id/8852974/lance-armstrong-history-lying

    Why did Ben Johnson get such treatment when the majority of the finalists were on drugs including the eventual medalists. Simple, his national Olympic Committee did not have the clout of the others in protecting their drug abusers.
    1988 100 metres final
    Dennis Mitchell – Hormones
    Desal Williams – Steroids
    Ben Johnson
    Calvin Smith – Clean
    Linford Christie – steroids
    Carl Lewis – stimulants
    Ray Stewart – using and supplying banned substances
    Robson De Silva Clean

  23. jim mclean:
    Self induced cancer…

    Have you also read about the current furore over TRT (testosterone replacement therapy)? Loads of athletes saying their testosterone levels are well below what they should be – and surprise surprise, lots of these athletes have previously been caught doping.

  24. I’ve ridden a mountain stage of the Tour (it’s run as an amateur event each year a few days before the pros do it), so I’ve got some idea of how tough it is. But it’s totally doable for any normal human being who is prepared to put in the training though, and I’m not young. It’s just about doing the miles, lots of ‘em. What happens is that over the course of a couple of years or so, your body becomes conditioned to the endurance and speed training and your cardio system becomes incredibly efficient. You can then reach levels of performance that previously seemed almost fantastical, and without taking anything more potent than a caffeinated gel. With a bit of dedication and enough spare time, anyone can achieve this.

    So I’m a bit dubious when John says:

    Athletes are not average people. The stress they place on their muscular and skeletal systems, the demands placed on their cardiovascular system, and the impact this has on their central nervous system, is monumental. The ability to do so on a regular basis and recover makes the use of performance enhancing drugs, such as synthetic testosterone in its various forms, or growth hormone, not just desirable but essential for those whose aim is to compete at the highest level.

    It’s only essential if everyone else is doing it. It might be desirable, but it’s quite possible to ride the whole tour clean and many have done so. It will hurt and you won’t be quite as fast, but your central nervous system will take it OK. Sadly, clean cycling is more boring because drug-free riders can’t successfully sustain “heroic” solo breakaways and end up getting reeled in by the more aerodynamic and efficient peloton.

    I agree with John about Armstrong’s seven yellows still being an extraordinary achievement. It’s not all about the PEDs. For me it’s not even mainly about the PEDs, I can forgive him that on the grounds that most of ‘em were at it too. What’s unforgivable is the systematic cover-ups and corruption, and the reputational and financial destruction of anyone who stood in his way, down to his masseur and mechanic. He’s basically an arsehole who was pretty tasty on a bike. Shame, cos I still rate him as the best cyclist ever. Look at this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MdMdJAdzpYQ

  25. ^Great athletic ability coupled with a certain swagger is really something to behold – you just can’t help liking it even though you realise it’s so, so arrogant.

    If I’d tried doing that, I would have probably ended up falling off the bike!

  26. prianikoff on said:

    #6 “Surely you’re not suggesting that the domination enjoyed by Michael Phelps in Olympic swimming does not reflect a huge advance in the sport, or that similarly Usain Bolt’s domination of the 100 and 200 metres sprint events?”

    No I’m not. David Rudisha’s record in the 800 m was also a huge advance. There are always going to be exceptional individuals and, as participation in sport widens across the world, more of them will be discovered. But the statistics indicate that the rate of improvement will slow down.

    The question is, should the medical and technological aids to performance be allowed in the interests of continual advances in performance?

    Things seem to be going the other way.

    In swimming, full body polyeurathane-coated swimsuits have been banned. In cycling, athletics and football steroids and EPO are tested for regularly.

    Armstrong’s case involved blurring a line between the medical use of drugs and gaining an unfair advantage.
    Arguably, Lionel Messi wouldn’t have become the footballer he is now without the human growth factor injections he received as a teenager. The difference is that he stopped taking them after his natural deficiency was remedied.

  27. saothar on said:

    Interesting discussion on boxing and knockouts. Muhammad Ali’s knockout of Oscar Bonavena in 1970, just prior to his first fight with Frazier is a good example of someone walking onto a counter- punch, and being flattened by a fighter who was not considered a big puncher. Bonavena had a chin of iron, as he showed in 2 fights with Frazier, which he came very, very close to winning. Frazier couldn’t put Bonavena down although he was a much bigger puncher than Ali. Ali also did the same thing to Zora Folley, so perhaps there is something in the argument that soft punchers can produce devastating knockouts if the opponent is advancing towards them.

    I’m also not sure about the so-called fix with Ali and Liston II. Ali was much better than Liston in the first fight and would have beat him again anyway, every day of the week

  28. I know it’s the conventional viewpoint, but I disagree with saying Ali wasn’t a ‘big puncher’. He was a lump of a man that could really demolish people when he turned it on, esp. when they pissed him off – think of what he did to Floyd Patterson, and why. However, in most fights he worked off his quick, popping jab, rarely planting his feet and sitting down on his punches. Less power was the trade-off for being elusive, for staying on his toes. (That he stilled knocked-out some incredibly tough guys using such a style imo speaks to the value of counter-punching. Off hand, I can’t think of a single Ali knock-out that wasn’t off a counter.)

    Ali’s also on the record saying things like he didn’t want to hurt the other guy, just win the boxing match, which when you look at his career, does seem like a principle he applied – of course the trade-off for not finishing opponents and instead toying with them, was that he was in a load of 15-rounders, and in the end the accumulated damage was too much for his body.

    I suppose there’s a tragic irony in the fact that one of the best defensive boxers ever nevertheless suffered so much head trauma that it triggered a degenerative brain condition. Even when you don’t get hit, you still get hit… a lot.

  29. Not that I have much interest in boxing, but I noticed there was an article by John in the Morning Star today about Chris Eubank. Showing how little I know, I was surprised to discover he was brought up in the Bronx.

  30. Eddie M on said:

    Calvin,

    riding a stage as a tourist, and doing it at full speed in the media of a 3 week tour is quite a different matter.

  31. Eddie M on said:

    You can’t talk about Lance Armstrong without adding the context of the EPO era. There was no EPO test through the 90s, so it became like nuclear weapons for all the top teams – everyone had to have them to cancer out their effects from the other teams. This culture left a long legacy.

  32. Feodor: I disagree with saying Ali wasn’t a ‘big puncher’.

    While he didn’t throw feather dusters, Ali was not known as a big punching heavyweight. With him it was the sheer volume of punches that overwhelmed his opponents. As you say he rarely planted his feet, until that is he slowed down in the latter half of his career. Even then he did not exude the concussive power of a George Foreman or a Ken Norton. When Frazier fought Ali he was able to take Ali’s shots on the way in to get in one of his own. Frazier tried to do the same against Foreman and got lifted off the canvas.

    Floyd Paterson was a small heavyweight who only weighed around 190 lbs. He wouldn’t even be classed as a heavyweight today, he’d be a cruiserweight. Paterson was also known for being unable to take a punch.

  33. Daniel Young on said:

    Frazier done the damage to Ali.Great technician Ali,that!s why he is called the Greatest.Puncher, of course, knock out no.But a magic technician of the art of punishment on the body and time damage.

    The weight serious heavyweights fight these days, would in the day of Louie, Marciano the latter unbeaten, is classed today as middle weights.

  34. Eddie M:
    riding a stage as a tourist, and doing it at full speed in the media of a 3 week tour is quite a different matter.

    No shit. However, don’t underestimate the “tourists” and the demands that racing even a single mountain stage places on your central nervous system. Some of them are junior pros, ex-pros, aspiring pros, and many are elite amateurs who are also putting in some serious structured and scientific training. Anyone who gets round without being swept up by the broom wagon has a real achievement to add to their cycling CV. Typically, around half don’t make it. Greg Lemond did the 2007 Etape and finishised 650th out of about 8,000 starters; 17 years earlier he had won the Tour de France. A 40 year old Swiss friend of mine finished last years Etape in 38th place, and he has a young family and holds down a day job. His training regime is similar to the pros, but without the back up.

    I’m just a middle-aged guy who likes riding his bike, nothing special. But for the Etape I put in 25 hours a week training for eight months, peaking at around 500 miles a week. It is hard, you’ve got to get your nutrition right, and you’ve got to be prepared to suffer. But barring accidents and mechanicals, any club-level cyclist who does this will get round and in a respectable time. Over the course of the months and years, your body adjusts to the training and mentally you learn to handle the pain.

    It’s exactly the same for the pros, just at a higher and more structured level. They’re just great cyclists who train and compete as their day job, and have a support and training system behind them. You don’t *need* PEDs to ride the 21 stages of the Tour, although in the age of doping you may need them to win it.

  35. Armstrong just comes across as unpleasant doesn’t he? With some people, you just know.

    But anyway, even if he is nice, you should still spit at him if you see him in the street.