Notebook > Sports

Tainted performances

Sports | Cycling only highlights the spike in doping

Issue: "Living a legend," Aug. 19, 2006

American Floyd Landis' Tour de France championship was short-lived. After a comeback victory in the Tour, Landis seemed like a great story. The man who grew up as a Pennsylvania Mennonite had overcome a serious hip problem to become another American champion in a European-dominated sport. One failed drug test later, Landis is just another doping cyclist-one who had his title stripped and given to Óscar Pereiro.

By now the Landis story seems familiar. On the difficult Stage 16, Landis struggled and dropped to eight minutes behind the leader, Pereiro. The next day, Landis surged and made up all but seconds of his deficit, a feat some hailed as one of the greatest sporting achievements ever.

Days after the tour's end Landis had not only been fingered for having an 11:1 ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone in two separate samples (a 1:1 ratio would be normal), but also lab tests indicated Landis had synthetic testosterone in his system. That revelation undercut Landis' initial defense-that a night of drinking after his bad day somehow led to heightened testosterone levels on his good day.

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The Landis scandal raises more questions in a cycling world that can't seem to avoid steroid controversies. Prior to the Tour's start, the sport's two biggest names after the departure of Lance Armstrong earned disqualifications on doping charges. Steroid charges booted not just European stars Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich but enough riders to force the withdrawal of the entire Astana-Würth team.

One of the intrinsic values of sports is the feeling that viewers can believe what they see. Doping scandals undercut that belief. And steroid use extends beyond cycling and Barry Bonds. World-record-holding sprinter Justin Gatlin failed a drug test following a race at the University of Kansas. When the result was announced last month, it didn't surprise critics who noted Gatlin was coached by controversial track coach Trevor Graham. Eight athletes coached by Graham have failed drug tests or received bans for using steroids. Graham claims Gatlin's massage therapist set him up, saying the therapist rubbed him down with a testosterone-laden cream.

Hand it to sports dopers, including former baseball star Rafael Palmeiro, who said he got a steroid-laced B12 shot from a teammate. Their performances may be tainted, but their stories are golden.

Around the Horn

FOOTBALL: Was it worth the nearly $18,000 paycheck? For agreeing to take what amounted to a $70 per hour job at a booster's car dealership, Rhett Bomar lost his chance to play college football for Oklahoma. Coach Bob Stoops booted Bomar off the team when he discovered university boosters had paid Bomar for work he never did-a huge violation of NCAA rules. Bomar won't ever play for Oklahoma again. Now he's just trying to see if the NCAA will allow him to lace up for another team.

GOLF: When Tiger Woods notched his 50th career win by running away with the Buick Open on Aug. 6, he became just the seventh golfer ever to attain that record. And at 30, Woods was also the youngest. Jack Nicklaus reached his 50th win at age 33. Still, Woods needs 23 wins to catch Nicklaus and 32 to tie Sam Snead for the all-time career victories lead. It seems that's where Woods' goals are set: "It's a lifelong ambition to get better," he said.

BASEBALL: The Texas Rangers finally ended Vladimir Guerrero's 44-game hitting streak against the club by walking the free-swinging outfielder four times on Aug. 5, including three intentional walks. Guerrero had one official at-bat, but he failed to get a hit, snapping a streak that had been the longest of its kind. Texas manager Buck Showalter, who once ordered Barry Bonds walked with the bases loaded, called for the intentional walks.

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