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Armstrong Decision Ripples Outside Of Sporting World


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon and it's time for sports.


SIMON: And a true bombshell that casts a shadow beyond sports. Lance Armstrong, who won the Tour de France seven times after winning his fight against cancer, announced he would not fight the doping charges brought against him by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. And yesterday, that agency said it is stripping all titles from Lance Armstrong, and is banning him from the sport that he electrified and embodied for so long. NPR's Tom Goldman joins us.

Tom, thanks for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Scott. My pleasure.

SIMON: And forgive me for putting it this way, is this the smoking starter's pistol, definitive proof that Lance Armstrong doped?

GOLDMAN: As everything goes with Lance Armstrong, you have very strong opinions on many sides of the conversation. And some will say definitely so. He certainly doesn't. You know, it's on the - Lance Armstrong appears to be waving a white flag with his decision not to fight these charges. This is a tenacious human being for whom fighting is a major part of his personality, whether fighting up the steep roads in the Alps or fighting cancer or fighting his accusers.

But it's not a real total surrender, Scott. in his decision not to challenge there is plenty of fight, from his statement blasting the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency investigation of him, calling it an unconstitutional witch hunt to his lawyer's letter yesterday to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which threatens to take legal action if U.S.A.D.A. or anyone else makes certain public statements about Armstrong in this case. And that hardly sounds like surrender.

SIMON: Does it just take a bunch of hardware off his shelf?

GOLDMAN: Well, it potentially does. and it also takes, you know, it takes him away from the sport, as you said, and away from the sport that he has rediscovered, triathlon, in his post-cycling career. Anything that is kind of a signatory to the world anti-doping code he will not be able to compete in those events. If the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency decision stands up.

SIMON: There's a chance it might not?

GOLDMAN: Well, there is a jurisdictional issue that's going on right now. The question about whether U.S.A.D.A. has jurisdiction and the power to sanction or if cycling's international governing body, the U.C.I., has that jurisdiction. And it may very well end up in front of the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport to resolve that dispute.

SIMON: You know, as you've reported this story for us over the years, Tom, I've always said to you, but, Tom, no athlete, maybe no human being, has been more rigorously tested so many times, and he's never tested positive for a banned substance. Have I been wrong?

GOLDMAN: Hate to say so, but yes. There is information that contradicts this constant assertion by Armstrong, which he repeated this week. He tested positive for cortisone during the 1999 Tour de France, but a backdated therapeutic use exemption form cleared him on that.

In 2011, it was reported that several test results from 1993 to 1996 showed abnormally high levels of testosterone. And in 2005, it was reported that Armstrong's tests from the 1999 tour were retroactively tested and that six samples from that race tested positive for EPO, the blood boosting agent. Several of his teammates from that tour have since admitted using EPO.

Those results, those '99 results for Armstrong were overturned on a technicality. So, yes, it does seem that it's not altogether true when he says he has never tested positive.

SIMON: You know, he's not just a sports hero. There are millions of people around the world wearing those yellow Livestrong bracelets. He's been a living example to millions of people, families of cancer survivors and people who live with cancer, of the power of persistence and strength. Is that good work tarnished?

GOLDMAN: You know, for some of the people in what I call the yellow wristband army, it won't be. I think those people will keep believing because it is a very personal and a very determined fight when you have that disease. And he has given inspiration. He has done positive things; increasing cancer awareness, raising money, although it's unclear where all of that money goes in the fight against cancer. It doesn't all - you know, people say it all goes to research. That's not true.

He has given the hope and given people this belief that, you know, he used incredible willpower to get back on the bike and win. If it turns out that it wasn't just force of will, there will be people who decide that that's too big of a fraud and they're not going to keep supporting this guy. But there will be a contingent of people who will continue to support him and stick to the inspirational part of the story.

SIMON: NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.