Lance Armstrong’s confession is sure to spark another frenzied hunt for the hundreds of still-unknown doctors, trainers, and athletes who have engaged in the doping business over the last decade.
Fans of elite endurance sports, however, ought to abandon media-fueled hysteria and consider the revolutionary power these stigmatized techniques could hold for athletes and mankind.
Technological and dietary advancements, fueled by science, have long played a crucial role in competition. Consider that the winner of the first Tour de France in 1903, Maurice Garin, finished on a machine that weighed just under under 40 lbs.
In 2005 Armstrong rolled through Paris on a carbon bike which weighed 15 lbs. Rather than condemn the science that affords such progress, most athletes today rejoice in the advancement and purchase the lightest bikes available.
Similarly, racing speed has risen too dramatically, over the century, to dismiss as just the ill-gained effects of steroids. In 2012 Tour winner Bradley Wiggins averaged about 10 MPH faster than Garin in 1903 even though the 1903 race distance was about 600 miles shorter.
World records routinely fall these day in most Olympic sports which are known assiduously regulated for performance enhancing substances. Athletes have become harder, better, faster, even as the developed world becomes fatter, less disciplined, and more stupid. These gains are clearly the harvest of scientific, medical, and dietary achievement.
Of course these gains are part of the greater march of progress. In 1903 the average expected lifespan for a male in the United States was about 49 years. In 2003 he is expected to live to 75. Such advancements, which continue to shatter the lifespan ceiling, saved Lance Armstrong in his fight against testicular cancer. Perhaps they were also significant in creating the greatest cyclist the world has ever seen.
For some reason many embrace medicine when it saves or strengthens life but reject it if it allows humans to transcend what is arbitrarily considered normal for other reasons.
One good purpose for sporting might be the compact and intense simulation of life it provides. Another legitimate purpose for elite endurance sports especially, are that they allow exploration of the outer physical bounds of human achievement. It seems either of these views should allow for responsible use of performance enhancing drugs.
Athletes in most sports regularly subject themselves to a great deal of abuse for which the body was not designed. One contemporary example are the concussions suffered by NFL players which certainly shorten their lives. It is also unlikely the body was meant to run ultra-marathons, leap from cliffs attached to nothing but a rubber band, or lift enormous loads.
Just because these activities are unnatural or risky does not mean we create judicial or quasi-judicial bodies to ban or regulate them. Being part of a free society means individuals ought to have the right to make all decisions, including bad ones.
In fact, some of the “doping” techniques Lance used are hardly considered harmful. There is scarce evidence that transfusion of one’s own natural blood back into one’s own body is detrimental for an elite athlete.
U.S. special forces have experimented with these same methods in order to increase battlefield performance. There are countless practical uses for such transfusions. Why not perfect and employ these techniques in the velodrome?
The draconian rules, and net of regulations put forth by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and other worldwide sporting bodies have been proven impossible to enforce in any systematic manner. Their complexity and the ubiquity of violations leave them open for abuse as political weapons by discriminatory enforcement. The rules’ existence also forces the activities underground creating dangers that might not have existed otherwise.
Armstrong did cheat, but he did so as part of a noble quest to push the bounds of human achievement and create the strongest and fastest cycling team in history. While cheating is wrong, we now know most teams were racing by the same non-rules.
His mistakes are impossible to deny, but it is also impossible to deny that — with the power of medicine — Armstrong inspired a multitude of cancer-stricken patients to fight and live on.
As the world watches Armstrong seek absolution on Oprah’s couch, we ought also to remember that in sports he drew on that same great power of medicine to inspire millions of sedentary individuals to get up off the couch and “Livestrong.”
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire