Cyclist Landis Loses Round in Doping Case

Cyclist Floyd Landis has lost his doping case and with it his claim to the 2006 Tour de France title. An arbitration panel upheld the results of a test that showed Landis used synthetic testosterone to fuel his victory. Landis has the right to appeal.

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

American bicycle racing champion Floyd Landis will become the first winner of the Tour de France to have his title stripped because of doping. Today, an arbitration panel announced that Landis was guilty of using banned synthetic testosterone when he won last year's tour. He faces a two-year ban from cycling.

NPR's Tom Goldman joins us now. And, Tom, what did the arbitrators say?

TOM GOLDMAN: It is a three-member panel. Two of them said Landis was guilty of a doping violation; one said he was innocent. Landis' position all along was that the French lab that tested his samples was sloppy in its procedures. It made technical errors in testing and analyzing results. And the majority on the panel today, those voting guilty, said the initial test on Landis' sample - that's a measure of the ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone - that was not done according to established rules. But the second test, a more precise one, which can detect synthetic testosterone, that test was accurate and it was enough to establish an anti-doping rule violation.

Now, the dissenter on the panel, Arbitrator Chris Campbell, said the errors were enough to overwhelm everything else, and he said Landis should be found innocent.

SIEGEL: So the arbitrators did acknowledge that there were some flaws in the system of testing.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, they did and, although, as I mentioned, the majority says it was still clear that Landis had used a banned substance. The majority did issue a warning to the French lab and I, quote, the panel finds that the practices of the lab in training its employees appears to lack the vigor the panel would expect in the circumstances given the enormous consequences of athlete - consequences to athletes of an adverse analytical finding. If such practices continue, it may well be that in the future, an error like this could result in the dismissal of a positive finding by the lab.

SIEGEL: What does Landis have to say today, if anything?

GOLDMAN: Well, not much. He issued a written statement and he picked up on this theme of problems of the process. He said the ruling is a blow to athletes and cyclists everywhere for the panel to find in favor of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency when, with respect to so many issues, the Anti-Doping Agency did not manage to prove even the most basic parts of their case, shows that this system is fundamentally flawed. I am innocent, he said, and we proved I am innocent.

SIEGEL: And the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, what are they saying about this?

GOLDMAN: Well, their response was predictable. The head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency called USADA, Travis Tygart, said today's ruling is a victory for all clean athletes and everyone who values fair and honest competition. He went on to say, this case is really just another sad example of the crisis of character which plagues some of today's athletes and undermines the honest achievements of all those athletes who compete with integrity.

Now, Robert, I asked Tygart about the panel's acknowledgement of flaws in the process. He said USADA knew all along that some things could have been done better. They were concerned about that as they took the case to the hearing, in fact. But he echoed the majority on the panel and said none of the problems rose to the level of changing the fact that Landis doped.

SIEGEL: Well, is there any further appeal or a next step in this case?

GOLDMAN: Well, there certainly is. There is the Court Of Arbitration For Sport, which is like a supreme court for sports in Switzerland. And Floyd Landis could possibly take an appeal to the Court Of Arbitration For Sport known as CAS. Landis said in a statement that he's weighing legal alternatives.

CAS rarely overturns a decision and Landis has said in the past, he's not sure he wants to spend more money and energy on this - with an appeal to CAS. He's already spent about $2 million on what today became a losing cause.

SIEGEL: Tom, I'm thinking about the impact of this on the Tour de France, and thinking back to this year's Tour de France. Can anything worse happen to the Tour de France than what's already happened?

GOLDMAN: I don't think so. And, in fact, I think the reaction to this among the general public will probably be, so what? This happens all the time.

SIEGEL: What else is new? Yes. Exactly.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Things are pretty low right now.

SIEGEL: Thank you. NPR's Tom Goldman.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

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Tilting the Level Playing Field? It's Nothing New

A statue of a discus thrower at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. i i

The bronze statue of a discus thrower graced the Olympic Village at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. The model's contemporaries sought a competitive edge with hallucinogenic mushrooms and animal hearts. Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images
A statue of a discus thrower at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece.

The bronze statue of a discus thrower graced the Olympic Village at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. The model's contemporaries sought a competitive edge with hallucinogenic mushrooms and animal hearts.

Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images
NBA official Tim Donaghy and Kobe Bryant i i

Cheating in sports is not confined to athletes. NBA ref Tim Donaghy (left), shown here working a playoff game in 2006, admitted cooperating with gamblers. Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
NBA official Tim Donaghy and Kobe Bryant

Cheating in sports is not confined to athletes. NBA ref Tim Donaghy (left), shown here working a playoff game in 2006, admitted cooperating with gamblers.

Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell's report on the "serious drug culture, from top to bottom," within Major League Baseball is just the latest evidence that sports are not always conducted on a level playing field.

The scandals may be disturbing, but they're really nothing new. Seeking an edge in sports is as old as the noble Olympiads. During the Greek games, athletes caught cheating paid fines. The money was used to erect statues of Zeus. These statues were placed along the passageway that led to the stadium, with the name of the cheater inscribed on their bases — a public humiliation, the precursor to bad press.

Some of the ancient Greek athletes were known to ingest hallucinogenic mushrooms — as well as animals' hearts and testicles — all to enhance performance, according to Charles Yesalis, professor of health and human development at Penn State, quoted in The Washington Post.

World's First Dopers

In other words, the ancient Greeks, fathers of democracy and Western culture, were also the world's first dopers. The Romans weren't much better. Gladiators used stimulants in the famed Circus Maximus (circa 600 B.C.) to overcome fatigue and injury.

In modern times, runners doped themselves with strychnine as early 1904.

Today's technology is, of course, more sophisticated. But the underlying problem remains the same: some athletes are willing to cheat to win, by doping or other means.

And not just athletes, by the way: NBA referee Tim Donaghy recently admitted that he cooperated with gamblers. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was penalized by the NFL for illegally videotaping coaching activities on the opposite sideline.

Some analysts say the reason for a seeming spurt in cheating is simple: the stakes are higher. Salaries and prize money are at record levels so, simply put, it pays to cheat. "It's more rational to take risks if the pay-off is very large," says David Callahan, author of The Cheating Culture. "And as cheating spreads in a given sport, the non-cheaters feel they are paying a price for remaining honest."

Worse Than Dirty Politics

Judging from the media coverage, dirty athletes seem to evoke more public outrage than dirty politicians. That's because cheating in sports is more clear-cut than cheating in politics, says sportswriter Frank Deford, a regular commentator on NPR's Morning Edition. "We expect politicians to be dirty, and we realize that rap singers aren't moral paragons, but we want our sports to be clean. What all of these scandals have shown is that sports is no different from anything else."

Deford has a theory: Athletes taking part in individual sports, such as cycling or track, are more vulnerable to allegations of cheating than athletes taking part in team sports. In a team sport, the blame for any transgression can be spread around. Plus, "the team loyalty keeps you going year after year. That gives you a base, a foundation," he says. For individual athletes, there is no such redemption. They and they alone are to blame.

Sports scandals go to the heart of the American split personality, says Callahan. On the one hand, we value egalitarianism and fair play; on the other hand, we admire those who succeed, even if sharp elbows are employed in the climb to the top. "There is something very sacred about sports to America, a country infatuated with egalitarian ideals, at least on paper, so when sports are tarnished by cheating we are disillusioned."

The Games Go On

Perhaps, but none of the cheating scandals has made a dent in attendance figures, at least not in this country. NFL attendance is on the rise. A record number of fans are paying to watch big-league baseball, steroids notwithstanding. (NBA attendance has been flat; the Donaghy scandal broke during the off-season so it's too soon to measure its impact.)

But some think American sports fans will not tolerate this trend indefinitely.

"Most people still have great faith in the integrity of the game. If that is lost, it will eventually affect attendance," says Robert Simon, author of a book on cheating and sports. That has already happened in Europe, where professional cycling has suffered a major setback from the recent doping scandals at the Tour de France.

On the other end of the spectrum is golf: one sport that remains untainted by even a whiff of scandal. Golf retains a code of honor that seems almost quaint in this day of steroids and surreptitious videotaping. Golfers will call a penalty on themselves — if, for instance, they accidentally jostle their ball on the green — even if no one else witnessed the infraction.

Smith says we shouldn't make too much of the recent spike in cheating scandals. "We forget the thousands and thousands of games are played where people do the right thing," he says.

Deford agrees. "To suggest that we have descended to the depths of Hades all of a sudden, I wouldn't buy into that. These cheating scandals, though, do show that athletes are susceptible to the same kind of venality as the rest of us."

Cyclist Landis Loses Doping Appeal

Tour de France winner Floyd Landis on the pro mountain bike course at the Teva Mountain Games i i

Tour de France winner Floyd Landis descends on the pro mountain bike course at the Teva Mountain Games in Vail, Colo. hide caption

itoggle caption
Tour de France winner Floyd Landis on the pro mountain bike course at the Teva Mountain Games

Tour de France winner Floyd Landis descends on the pro mountain bike course at the Teva Mountain Games in Vail, Colo.

Cyclist Floyd Landis looked destined to be stripped of his 2006 Tour de France victory after arbitrators on Thursday upheld results of a drug test indicating he used synthetic testosterone to fuel a spectacular comeback in the renowned race.

The decision means Landis — who has strenuously and repeatedly denied using performance-enhancing drugs — must forfeit his Tour de France title and endure a two-year ban on competition, retroactive to Jan. 30, 2007.

The ruling, handed down nearly four months after a bizarre and bitterly fought hearing, leaves the American with one final way to possibly salvage his title - an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

If Landis doesn't appeal, he'll be the first person in the 105-year history of the race to lose the title because of a doping offense.

The vote was 2-1 to uphold the results, with lead arbitrator Patrice Brunet and Richard McLaren in the majority and Christopher Campbell dissenting, according to The Associated Press.

"Today's ruling is a victory for all clean athletes and everyone who values fair and honest competition," U.S. Anti-Doping Agency general counsel Travis Tygart said.

It marks a devastating loss for Landis, who has said he was merely a pawn in the anti-doping system's all-consuming effort to find cheaters and keep money flowing to its labs and agencies.

In its 84-page decision, the majority found the initial screening test to measure Landis' testosterone levels – the testosterone-to-epitestosterone test - was not done according to World Anti-Doping Agency rules.

But the more precise and expensive carbon-isotope ration analysis (IRMS), performed after a positive T-E test is recorded, was accurate, the arbitrators said, meaning "an anti-doping rule violation is established."

"As has been held in several cases, even where the T-E ratio has been held to be unreliable ... the IRMS analysis may still be applied," the majority wrote. "It has also been held that the IRMS analysis may stand alone as the basis" of a positive test for steroids.

The decision comes more than a year after Landis' stunning comeback in Stage 17 of the 2006 Tour, one that many people said couldn't be done without some kind of outside help. Flying to the lead near the start of a grueling Alpine stage, Landis regained nearly eight minutes against the leader, and went on to win the three-week race.

Landis insisted on a public hearing not only to prove his innocence, but to shine a spotlight on USADA and the rules it enforces and also establish a pattern of incompetence at the French lab where his urine was tested.

Although the panel rejected Landis' argument of a "conspiracy" at the Chatenay-Malabry lab, it did find areas of concern. They dealt with control of the urine sample, the way the tests were run on the machine, the way the machine was prepared and the "forensic corrections" done on the lab paperwork.

"... the Panel finds that the practices of the Lab in training its employees appears to lack the vigor the Panel would expect in the circumstances given the enormous consequences to athletes" of an adverse analytical finding, the decision said.

The majority repeatedly wrote that any mistakes made at the lab were not enough to dismiss the positive test, but also sent a warning.

"If such practices continue, it may well be that in the future, an error like this could result in the dismissal" of a positive finding by the lab.

In Campbell's opinion, Landis' case should have been one of those cases.

"In many instances, Mr. Landis sustained his burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt," Campbell wrote. "The documents supplied by LNDD are so filled with errors that they do not support an Adverse Analytical Finding. Mr. Landis should be found innocent."

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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