Friday, January 18, 2013

Lance Armstrong, The Witch Hunt Has It's Witch

Sunday Times Open Letter to Oprah Winfrey Ad [P] Sunday Times

David Walsh's obsession with Lance Armstrong has been a career, resulting in his book, Seven Deadly Sins, My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong, reviewed here by Tim Black of Spiked.  As might be expected, however, Black's review doesn't just examine Walsh's book, but also presents some other ideas about cycling and sports in general.

Black says:   "Yet can the casting out of Lance the alleged sociopath, burdened as he is with the sins of a culture of doping, cleanse what is seen as the most sullied of sports? It seems unlikely. And why? Because the desire to get ahead using banned substances is not anathema to the spirit of sport - it is inherent to sport’s competitive essence. It’s why athletes train at high altitude, it’s why they seek out the latest dietary supplements, it’s why they employ the most sophisticated of trainers. And it’s the determination to win that marks out the great from the merely good, which separates the supreme competitor from the mere participant."

Let's add some things to that list, surgery for instance.  Advances in orthopedic surgery have resulted in not only the extension of athletic careers that would have been abbreviated by injuries in the recent past but actually have improved the physical talents of the injured.  The celebrated "Tommy John" surgery so common now in baseball, involving the rebuilding of throwing arms by transplanting tissue form one part of the body to another certainly has no relation to any natural process and often results in an improvement in performance.  Baseball batters also have elective surgery to improve their vision.

Training and medical techniques have dramatically extended the careers of successful athletes far beyond what was once considered normal.  Is this legitimate?  In cycling, for instance French lady Jeannie Longo has been a 59-time national champion, won a world championship 13 times and has competed in seven Olympic games, winning a gold medal.  In the 2012 London Olympics she finished 4th in the women's time trial, 2 seconds from a bronze medal at age 54.  She, too, has been dogged by accusations of PEDs use, like every dominating athlete.  Ultimately, we take sports just too seriously, game results really don't matter all that much.      

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