Mish-Mash

by Rant on September 9, 2008 · 10 comments

in Doping in Sports, Jeff Adams, Lance Armstrong, Oscar Pistorius, Paralympic Games

First 2008 Paralympic Games Doping Scandal

Just when I was getting ready to start my write-up of doping scandals at the Beijing Olympics, along comes a new one, this time involving a Pakistani powerlifter with the unfortunate surname Butt at the Paralympic Games. Butt tested positive for metabolites of the steroid methandienone, according to Agence France Presse, two days before the opening ceremonies.

“In accordance with the IPC anti-doping code, and after a hearing of the IPC anti-doping committee, the IPC ratified the decision to disqualify Butt,” the [International Paralympic Committee] said in a statement, adding that a two-year ban had been imposed.

IPC medical and scientific director Peter Van de Vliet told reporters that despite the disappointment of a positive test, the incident highlighted the committee’s efforts to run a fair Games.

No mention is made in the AFP article, published on the Sydney Morning Herald’s website, of whether or not IPC rules require a B sample to confirm the initial results, or whether Butt admitted to using the steroid. Meanwhile, other athletes are having success at Beijing’s Paralympic Games. Oscar Pistorius has already won a gold medal in the 100-meter sprint.

And the United Kingdom is doing well in the overall medal count, leading all other countries (according to the AFP story, that is).

Meanwhile…

Canadian Jeff Adams will be racing the 1500-meter wheelchair events, as I mentioned in the previous post. Jeff sent me an email shortly after I published my last article, giving me the times when the heats of the 1500 will be run, and when you can watch them. Here are the dates and times:

Sep-14   19:02   20:02   20:32   M   T53/54   1,500 Quarter 1
Sep-14   19:09   20:09   20:39   M   T53/54   1,500 Quarter 2
Sep-14   19:22   20:22   20:52   M   T53/54   1,500 Quarter 3
Sep-14   19:29   20:29   20:59   M   T53/54   1,500 Quarter 4
Sep-14   19:42   20:42   21:12   M   T53/54   1,500 Quarter 5

Sep-15   7:53   8:53   9:23   M   T54   1,500 Semi 1
Sep-15   8:00   9:00   9:30   M   T54   1,500 Semi 2
Sep-15   8:07   9:07   9:37   M   T54   1,500 Semi 3

Sep-16   19:40   20:40   21:10   M   T53/54   1,500 Final

Sep-16   21:40   M   T53/54   1,500   Victory Ceremony

I’m not sure what time zone these times are for, but my hunch is that these are the times in Beijing. I could be wrong on that, and the ParalympicSport.tv web site is not much help in showing the schedule of events. Still, it’s worth taking a look. And by Friday, perhaps I’ll have figured out the timing better.

Update: After doing a bit of checking, I’m pretty sure these times the local time in Beijing. Where multiple times are listed (like the quarter finals), my guess is the earliest time listed is the time in Beijing. For those who live in Europe (except the British Isles), subtract 6 hours from the times listed above to get your local time. For the UK and Ireland, subtract 7 hours. If you live in the Eastern time zone of North America, subtract 12 hours. Central time, minus 13. Mountain time, minus 14, and Pacific time, minus 15.

Lance Launches A Comeback

When I saw the articles surfacing yesterday on VeloNews and other places suggesting that Lance Armstrong would take up professional cycling again, I was a tad bit skeptical. Rumor had it that an exclusive interview, to be published in Vanity Fair, would give all the gory details. I couldn’t imagine why Lance would want to get back into the game. It’s a gutsy move. He has almost nothing to gain and much to lose by taking up the bike again. I thought, this has to be wishful thinking on someone’s part.

And then, this afternoon, I had a few free moments to click on over to Vanity Fair’s web site, and sure enough, the article — an interview with journalist/historian/literary executor of Hunter S Thompson’s estate, Douglas Brinkley (no relation to TV journalist David Brinkley) — was right there, just begging to be read. And so I did.

Armstrong is going all in, and he’s sparing no expense, including purchasing a house in downtown Aspen (I’m jealous, if I could afford to live in the Aspen area, I would move there in a heartbeat), so he can train at altitude. That’s some altitude he’s been training at. Aspen lies at almost 8000 feet above sea level. Roughly as high as a number of the passes and mountain-top finishes in the Tour. By the time he does his runs up Independence Pass, he’ll be at 12,000 feet, give or take a few. Way higher than he’ll ever have to go next summer. Assuming he has a team. No confirmation that Astana will be his team, yet. But let’s just say it wouldn’t surprise me any if that turns out to be the case.

And it sounds, by Brinkley’s description, that Armstrong has quite the workout routine going already. We’ll see if he can pull it off. Of any athlete out there, Lance Armstrong is definitely someone I wouldn’t bet against. But at the same time, there are risks to making this comeback. First, what if he doesn’t do as well as before? No doubt certain tongues will be wagging, saying that it’s proof he was doping all along. It wouldn’t be proof of any such thing, but that wouldn’t stop some from suggesting otherwise.

At the same time, he’s saying he’ll make all his test results public. Well, that’s a bold move. And, even if the results show he’s racing clean in 2009, by the same token, they won’t prove anything about his previous years of competition. Some will take it as proof he’s been clean all along, and others will say, “well, yeah, this year he is, but back in the day …”

The biggest risk of all is the one thing that no athlete wants to hear. The words “you tested positive for … ” For many, if such a scenario befalls Armstrong, it will serve as proof that he was doping all along. And, with the way the anti-doping system works, and the way the mainstream media would glom on to the story, Armstrong’s reputation would be completely decimated should that occur.

So the safe move would be to keep doing cancer advocacy. But that’s not what Lance is doing. He’s going to use the upcoming season (racing without pay, even) to draw attention to the need for more cancer research and treatment programs.

As Doug Ulman, the head of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, said in an email to the foundation’s donors and supporters:

So, once again, Lance is changing the game. Today, it’s still not about the bike. It’s about people, their families and friends fighting the greatest fight of their lives – both in the U.S. and around the world. It’s about straight and open talk about cancer, breaking the silence and eliminating the stigma and discrimination survivors experience. It’s about a moral obligation to fight this disease no matter who or where it strikes with everything we’ve got.

Best of luck to Lance Armstrong. He’s certainly taking on a big challenge. I hope his re-entry into cycling goes better than certain other athletes who just didn’t know when to quit.

Parting Shots

A couple of days ago, The New York Times ran an article about funding for paralympic athletes in the US. Turns out, American paralympians don’t get nearly the financial support that athletes in Canada, the UK and other countries do. As writer Alan Schwarz notes;

The U.S.O.C. contends that equitable support to Paralympic athletes is unrealistic because the agency receives almost no government assistance, and Paralympic success does not generate enough increased revenue.

Darryl Seibel, the U.S.O.C.’s chief communications officer, also emphasized that the agency’s support for Paralympic athletes has grown markedly: to $11.4 million this year from $3 million in 2004, in contrast with a relatively modest bump in Olympic funding.

“I see $3 million going up to $11 million and say that’s not too bad — that’s a good direction,” Seibel said. “We care more about the Paralympics than we ever have before.”

He added, “We’re much closer to the beginning of our support and involvement in the Paralympic movement than we are to being a finished product.”

At least one coach has jumped ship and started working elsewhere because of his frustrations with the current level of support for American paralympic athletes, according to the article.

One prominent American coach did switch affiliations — Peter Eriksson, now a consultant for Canada’s Paralympic track and field program, said he resigned as coach of the United States Paralympic track and field team two years ago because, “I couldn’t do my job,” he said.

“In the United States, the athletes are as determined, but they can’t access the services they need to compete at the elite level,” Eriksson said. “A lot of their athletes never developed out of the gate. They had humungous potential, and it just evaporated.”

And others note that the decrease in the performance of US athletes at the Paralympic Games is a result of the lower level of support those athletes receive from the USOC.

Liz Nicholl, Britain’s director of elite sport, said that the manner in which the United States supported its disabled athletes was a top cause of the decrease [in American results at the Paralympic Games]. “I would say that this a nation that is choosing to underperform,” she said.

The British wheelchair racing champion David Weir said competitions were marred by the United States’s approach. “It’s the sort of thing you’d expect from a third-world country in Africa — I think it’s quite disgusting, actually,” Weir said. “They’ve got talented athletes coming from there that could bring back medals from Beijing and London, and it looks like they don’t really care.”

Take the time to read the whole article. And for that matter, check out The New York Times website for coverage of the Beijing Paralympic Games. Kudos to them for giving more than a cursory mention in the sports pages.

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William Schart September 10, 2008 at 7:58 am

Timing may be at play here; there has been a lot in the news of late about the “War on Cancer” announced by President Nixon lo these many years ago, and the fact that not much headway has been made. This type of announcement by LA brings far more media attention than simply some new anti-cancer campaign or fund-raising effort. This is big news, it even made the national TV news last night.

Certainly there are risks for Lance. If he performs at less than his former level, the Lance-is-a-doper crowd will tout this as “proof” that he doped during his TdF wins. If he does well, even if his tests are clear, he still will be accused by some of doping. I mean, how can a 37 year old cancer survivor do that well? The fact that his tests are clean will be explained that he has some super-sleathy doping plan. And of course, if a non-negative result comes up, whether through statistical variation a la Berry, lab error, or deliberate attempt to falsify results, that would be bad, to say the least.

I will go on record at this point to say that I don’t think that LNDD would deliberately falsify results, at least on an A sample test. I do think there they did force Landis’ B sample tests to conform with the S17 A sample result, but I think this was more motivated by desire to confirm previous results than to nail an athlete they know was innocent. So I don’t think that LNDD or whatever it is known as today will attempt to knowingly manufacture an non-negative result for Armstrong, should he ride the TdF. However, I do think he will be closely monitored, he will be one of the “targeted” riders that get extra attention.

Another risk LA runs is something that follows Damsgaard’s remarks this summer: he releases test results deemed clean by LNDD, but Damsgaard or someone else points out something in the results that he (Damsgaard or whoever) believes is signs of doping. He have seen this with regard to Landis when people bring up that 48 hemocrit number as a sign that FL was blood doping in some way, even though that figure is within the accepted limits.

Rant September 10, 2008 at 8:59 pm

William,
Good points. Timing is everything, and it could well play into Lance’s advocacy on cancer issues.
On an entirely unrelated note, have you been following the Tour of Missouri? Sounds like Mark Cavendish and Team Columbia are really making a splash.

William Schart September 11, 2008 at 7:17 am

Yes, but Vande Velde won the TT yesterday, and has taken over the GC table. ToM doesn’t hit Columbia this year: the city says they declined due to conflict with the FB game, and I think that race organizers said they wanted to spread things around. It is stopping at Jeff, but unfortunately I have other obligations and won’t be able to go down. Maybe next year I might get a chance to see Floyd in action.

It appears that once again the race is being well received by the public.

Rant September 11, 2008 at 7:46 am

William,
Next year, if Floyd’s racing the ToM, I’m going to arrange vacation time so I can come down and watch, too. Had to miss the J-School’s Centennial celebration this year, unfortunately, due to work obligations. (There’s a reception tonight for Mizzou alums who’ve published books, etc. that I’m missing.) Oh well, I’ll be there for the exceedingly unofficial 101st anniversary of the J-School’s founding. Maybe I’ll even be able to talk some of my classmates into attending. 😉

William Schart September 11, 2008 at 10:38 am

Let me know, we can get together. Might even be able to put you up, if you need a place to stay.

Rant September 11, 2008 at 12:38 pm

William,
Thanks. I just may take you up on that.

snake September 11, 2008 at 4:56 pm

http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/08/29/2350211.htm?site=paralympics/2008

“There is another category of Paralympic cheats, however, whose illegal behaviour would make most people turn pale. They are the “boosters”, mainly athletes who have spinal cord injuries such as paraplegia.

To do this they don’t take drugs – instead, they *injure themselves* to trick their bodies into boosting performance.

Some of the ways that Paralympic athletes “boost” include sitting on pins, thumb tacks or ball bearings, turning off their catheters – allowing fluid to build up inside the body – while some male athletes who go so far as to tie wire around their genital area.”

E-gads … color me pale.

snake September 11, 2008 at 5:06 pm

Oh my … and more:

http://www.shanghaidaily.com/article/?id=373473&type=Sport

“The practice of voluntary autonomic dysreflexia – commonly known as boosting – involves disabled athletes beating, stabbing and strapping parts of the body to provoke an adrenalin rush that might improve their performance by up to 25 percent, or failing that, kill them.”

fmk September 11, 2008 at 7:55 pm

Opus Dei followers do that all the time.

Rant September 11, 2008 at 8:24 pm

Amazing the things people will do. The takes things to a whole different level, eh?

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