Friday, February 13, 2009

Armstrong Bails on Transparent Testing Program

When Lance Armstrong announced that he was coming back to competitive cycling five months ago, he also stated that he would embark on “the most advanced anti doping program in the world” to silence the doubts that have persisted throughout his career.

All of that changed Wednesday according to the New York Times, when it was announced with much less fanfare that the testing program has been abandoned without ever starting. Don Catlin, the former chief of the U.C.L.A. Olympic Analytical Laboratory who was supposed to run Armstrong’s program, said that they decided to mutually part ways, without Catlin’s analyzing a single blood or urine sample from Armstrong due to the program's complexities and costs.

Armstrong would still be tested by the internal anti doping program of his professional cycling team, Astana. This abrupt change is startling since Armstrong made his private anti doping program one of the cornerstones of his comeback and had Don Catlin with him in announcing his return.

Perhaps misspeaking or "misremembering" like the plague that has struck many baseball players, Armstrong said that his customized anti doping program was under way, but did not publish all of his biological data online as he said he would, before the Tour Down Under in Australia last month. A news release by Astana on Jan. 18, the first day of the race, said that Armstrong would be tested about every three days by Catlin’s program. Per the NYT, at that point, Catlin said, Astana had paid him a “small contribution” to begin taking samples. Asked about the program’s details, Armstrong said that Catlin would answer all the questions.

With a lack of transparency about the program, criticism ensued. Dick Pound, the former chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency, said last week: “Armstrong made all the big announcements, and the testing has dropped right off the radar. No sign that anything is actually getting done.”

Making matters worse, was Catlin's silence after Armstrong pushed all the questions regarding the program on him. Catlin remained ominously quiet since the September news conference announcing Armstrong's return to cycling, not returning or responding to more than a dozen phone calls and e-mail messages — until Wednesday.

Lance is a shrewd marketer; he knew that "the most advanced anti doping program in the world" would hit the right buttons with the media. At some point, the media will need to ask about these broken promises. You can never escape the suspicion of doubt if you make these grandiose proclamations of stringent testing and then slink away from it and hope no one calls you out. So far, it's a plan that has worked to perfection.

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