Sports Illustrated's 'Case Against Lance Armstrong'

Next week's Sports Illustrated magazine lays out what it calls "The Case Against Lance Armstrong." The seven-time Tour de France champion is facing allegations that he has used performance enhancing drugs throughout his career. Host Melissa Block speaks to Selena Roberts, who co-wrote the story for Sports Illustrated.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

This week's Sports Illustrated magazine lays out what it titles "The Case Against Lance Armstrong." At issue is whether the seven-time Tour de France champion has been involved in a doping operation throughout his career.

Armstrong is the focus of a criminal investigation by the Food and Drug Administration. A grand jury started hearing testimony in August. Selena Roberts co-wrote the story for Sports Illustrated and joins me now.

And Selena, this story is a combination of both new and old allegations, things we have heard before. What is - what's new and surprising in your report?

Mr. SELENA ROBERTS (Writer, Sports Illustrated): Well, I think what we did was we kind of drilled down a little bit into what the government is looking for here. And I guess, to simplify it, you know, the government investigators have to decide and really find out one major thing, and that is: Was the miracle of Lance Armstrong, were all those seven titles, the fame and the fortune, did he come by that honestly?

And what we did was we went back, and we talked to people who have been involved with litigation, you know, with Lance Armstrong, and we also did our own investigation to find out that there are several times in his past where red flags have come up, including if you go back to his Olympic years. We found that three times, his test registered abnormally.

BLOCK: Let's talk about, though, those three elevated test results. This was from '93, '94 and '96, and it was measuring the ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone in Lance Armstrong's blood.

You report that those first tests showed ratios that were abnormally high, but they were not confirmed by a second test. And Lance Armstrong is right, right, in saying that the B test did not confirm that result, this can't be considered a positive result.

Ms. ROBERTS: Right. And it was not considered a positive test. I think the curiosity and the intrigue there is why. Even Don Catlin, who was the scientist who deemed those tests negative, even he, when he looks back, he doesn't know why there was no confirming results to those tests.

So many Olympians in the past have failed tests and were passed on through a system where the United States Olympic Committee at some points have deemed the medals to be more important than really the welfare and really catching the cheats, that they've been passed through to the Olympics.

And what it appears to be in our research is that that indeed happened to Lance Armstrong.

BLOCK: We should explain that Don Catlin, the person doing these tests, is one of the most respected names in anti-doping efforts.

Ms. ROBERTS: That's correct. We also looked back at the minutes of meetings from the United States Olympic Committee, and Don Catlin is revealed in those minutes as to saying that he doesn't want to pre-test athletes before the Olympics because he doesn't want to catch them, in essence.

And he was sort of right there with a wave of Olympic committee members that didn't want to sanction American athletes before the Olympics because if you did that, then you wouldn't have an Olympic team.

BLOCK: You have some quite startling detail in your article, Selena, from an interview you did with Lance Armstrong's Motorola teammate, Stephen Swart, who describes a system from 1995, where they would have blood-testing machines in the hotel where they were staying. The cyclists would be testing their hematocrit levels. What did he tell you about why they were doing that?

Ms. ROBERTS: What it appeared to be to Stephen Swart and what he says it was was that Lance Armstrong, who was definitely the leader of that Motorola team, was instigating and pushing his fellow cyclists, his fellow teammates, to use a drug called EPO, which is a blood oxygenator. It really helps you so much in the mountains, and it gives you an incredible boost.

From what Stephen Swart was telling us, there were times when, you know, Lance Armstrong kept saying, you know, this is what we have to do to win.

When they were doing this, one important thing is to check your what they call hematocrit levels, which is to see, you know, just where you're measuring out because EPO is a very dangerous drug. And if your levels get too high, it can be dangerous, and in fact, it's been fatal in cycling before.

So what Stephen Swart has told us is when Lance was measuring his levels, they were hitting 54 and 55. And now, if you are a cyclist, and you went over 50, you wouldn't be racing the next time.

BLOCK: Selena Roberts, a number of the people you talk with for your piece seem to have an axe to grind or maybe even a legal case or a settlement with Lance Armstrong. How do you weigh their credibility?

Ms. ROBERTS: Well, I think that if you take the totality of who we talked to, maybe one or two of the people we spoke to had been in litigation. But Stephen Swart is not one of them.

Now, he's been deposed, but he went in, he told the truth because he was asked to come in and give a sworn statement.

BLOCK: Lance Armstrong, of course, has been asked about doping many, many times over the years and has always said: Look, I've been tested many times, and I've always come up clean. We ran your article by Lance Armstrong's lawyer, Timothy Herman, and let me read you part of what he said in response.

There were numerous inaccuracies. We found that Roberts did not provide us with specific allegations that we could respond to in a timely manner at all. We provided documents and information, court testimony and sworn affidavits to Sports Illustrated that were ignored.

What is your response to Lance Armstrong's lawyer's response?

Ms. ROBERTS: Well, for two weeks, we reached out to Lance Armstrong. We provided him topics that we wanted to discuss. We provided him questions that we wanted to have answered. He refused to discuss anything with us and went through his lawyer.

So there were certainly options for them to give us information. They chose to give us selected information and not the total information, and that was their choice.

We, throughout the entire story, whenever there was an issue, I think you would look, and you would see that Lance's lawyers had a response to them.

BLOCK: Selena, we explained that it's the FDA leading this investigation. The allegations go back many years. If Lance Armstrong were to be indicted, what possible charges might he be facing?

Ms. ROBERTS: Well, I think they're looking to find out: Did Lance Armstrong first of all dope? Did he have the ability to traffic drugs? Did he have the opportunity, and did he pressure his fellow riders, who would be considered sort of his employees, to take drugs? Did he take those drugs across international boundaries, if that is the case?

So a lot of things stem from whether or not he doped because if you consider that as the basis of the case, a lot of issues spring from that, including money laundering, including racketeering, including drug trafficking.

So I think there's a myriad of possibilities of what these indictments could mean.

BLOCK: And specifically because he was then riding for U.S. Postal Service, for the U.S. Postal Service team?

Ms. ROBERTS: Exactly. I mean, that - when you consider that the Postal Service is a government entity, and as a government entity, they funneled more than 40 to $50 million into that team while he was winning those Tour de Frances. So if he won those Tours deceptively and fraudulently, then there is an issue of fraud against the government.

BLOCK: Selena Roberts, her story in Sports Illustrated is titled "The Case Against Lance Armstrong." Selena, thank you.

Ms. ROBERTS: Thank you.

BLOCK: And in addition to Lance Armstrong's lawyers, we also reached out to Don Catlin, the anti-doping expert for a statement. He sent us this: The truth is what's important here, he writes. And I plan to do the best I can to determine what the reality is in this case, shed light on the situation, explain my point of view and provide the facts as I know them to be. That's been my creed for the past almost three decades in this field, and it remains my creed today.

Dr. Catlin says he plans to release a more detailed statement soon.

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