It’s getting hard to keep track of all the high-profile athletes who, after vehement denials, finally admitted to taking performance-enhancing drugs.
While pointing fingers of blame at several other cyclists, including 7-time champion Lance Armstrong, he seemingly excused himself, saying: “I don't feel guilty at all about having doped. I did what I did because that's what we [cyclists] did and it was a choice I had to make after 10 years or 12 years of hard work to get there, and that was a decision I had to make to make the next step. My choices were, do it and see if I can win, or don't do it and I tell people I just don't want to do that, and I decided to do it.”
Not guilty at all? Let's unpack that.
In his defense, Landis wasn't a "cheater" in the same way that someone who cheats on a test or a spouse is. He worked very, very hard to become a top cyclist. Anyone who saw his amazing, come-from-behind hill climb in 2006 can attest to his vigor. All of those illicit substances he took gave him perhaps a 1 or 2 percent performance boost – enough to go from being a world-class cyclist to a world-best cyclist.
And what's the distinction between the fancy pharmaceuticals Landis took and the over-the-counter enhancements many amateur athletes and fitness buffs consume at their local GNC? Flip through a triathlon or bodybuilding magazine today and marvel at the ads for all kinds of gels, drinks, powders, and pills that promise to make you a better athlete, molecule by molecule.
The point is, many people have made the same choice Landis did. And they don't feel remorse, either. But maybe they – and he – should. Here's why:
1) Doping is anti-competitive. Competition comes from the Latin word competere, which means "to strive together." Anyone who's raced against a rival knows this feeling of being pushed to new levels of excellence. But dopers and nondopers can't strive "together." Businesses that unfairly undermine competition are punished. Athletes should be, too.
2) Doping corrupts the essence of sport. The Olympic motto – "Faster, Higher, Stronger" – is predicated on the strife of human effort, not the efficacy of erythropoietin.
3) Doping breaks the rules. Everyone agrees on the need for a level playing field – that's why it's one of the most overused cliches in politics. Landis knew the rules and regulations of his sport. And he willingly broke them for personal gain.
Having huffed and puffed my way up the famed cycling switchback of Old La Honda Road in California's Santa Cruz Mountains earlier this spring, I know how hard cyclists work to stay at the top of their game.
If any of these athletes are beaten in a race, it should be by better competitors, not better chemicals.
Want to read more? Blog: Floyd Landis admits doping, implicates Lance Armstrong