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Armstrong hit with USADA sanctions

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency formally announced Friday morning it had issued sanctions that strip Lance Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles and 2000 Olympic bronze medal and ban him for life from all sports governed by federations that are signatories to the World Anti-Doping Code.

Although Armstrong said in a Thursday statement he had decided not to fight the charges that led to those sanctions, his attorneys have written USADA to threaten further legal action.  The attorneys assert, as Armstrong did in his statement, only the international cycling federation (known by its French acronym, UCI) has authority in the case.

In a Friday statement, the UCI said it expects USADA to provide a “reasoned decision explaining the action taken,” as mandated by the World Anti-Doping Code in cases where an athlete declines the opportunity for a full hearing.

USADA already has sent a summary version of that decision to the World Anti-Doping Agency and the UCI, according to a person familiar with the case.  That is to be followed by a full version of the decision.

It will fall to the UCI; the Tour’s governing body, Amaury Sport Organization; and the International Olympic Committee to implement sanctions against Armstrong.

By choosing not to have a hearing in a procedure Armstrong has called a “witch hunt,” the cyclist did several things:

*Prevented damaging testimony against him from being aired in public.  Such testimony could have led to both criminal charges against him and suits for financial damages by companies that would claim he had taken sponsorship and bonus money from them under fraudulent circumstances.

*Spared other cyclists from having to provide that testimony, which could also have implicated them directly in doping and made those who had been Armstrong treammates seem like turncoats.  USADA said it had more than a dozen witnesses who agreed to testify and provide evidence against Armstrong.

*Enabled him to stand behind the argument he never had failed a doping test, which is both meaningless and not true.  He tested positive for a banned corticosteroid at the 1999 Tour de France but escaped sanction by providing a therapeutic use exemption that reportedly was backdated.

In its statement, USADA said Armstrong was being sanctioned for use, possession, trafficking and administration of prohibited substances and/or methods including EPO, blood transfusions, corticosteroids, testosterone and masking agents.

Such charges can be brought without a positive doping test.

The UCI has contended it should have had jurisdiction in the matter.  It may yet make that argument to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the court of last resort in these instances.  Such an appeal, even on narrow jurisdictional grounds, could open the Pandora’s Box of the Armstrong sins USADA has identified.

Rejecting a suit by Armstrong, a federal judge ruled Monday that USADA had the authority to handle the case.

Reaction to Armstrong’s decision, particularly as reflected in public comments on media web sites, was predictably mixed.

Armstrong acolytes agreed with his choice to stop wasting time, energy and money on a process he characterized as an unfair fight.  Others found his plea of essentially nolo contendere to be tantamount to an admission of doping.

"He had the right to rip up those charges but he elected not to, therefore the only interpretation in these circumstances is that there was substance in those charges," John Fahey, president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, told Reuters in a Friday interview.

"I'm not going to attempt to understand why he's done that ... I can only take it as it stands - that it leads only to the conclusion that he is a drug cheat.”

Donald Trump criticized Armstrong on his Twitter feed, @realDonaldTrump, saying he was surprised the cyclist gave up and he “should immediately reconsider or his legacy is ruined.”

The literal legacy of Armstrong’s Tour victories is complicated if they are stripped from him.

Given how many other cyclists have been found guilty of doping or implicated in it since the first of Armstrong’s seven straight wins in 1999, some will argue the titles should be vacated rather than reassigned.

Jan Ullrich of Germany, who finished second to Armstrong three times in the Tour de France (2000, 2001, 2003), told the German news agency DPA he was proud of the runner-up finishes and did not care about getting the titles.

Ullrich’s situation illustrates the hazards of reassigning the titles.  He received a two-year doping ban and sanctions that invalidated his results from 2005 until his retirement in 2007.

Italy’s Ivan Basso (2005), another runner-up to Armstrong, received a two-year ban in 2007 for his involvement in the Spanish Operation Puerto doping affair.  The 1999 runner-up, Alex Zuelle of Switzerland, rode in 1998 for the Festina team expelled from the Tour after team officials admitted to an organizing doping system.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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