U-S- Anti-Doping Agency

Lance Armstrong, and the time for accountability

There are two plays going on in the matter of Lance Armstrong. One is to the court of public opinion. That's why he's talking to Oprah Winfrey. It's good for ratings, probably, but substantively may ultimately prove little. Lance Armstrong got caught in a big lie and now he wants something, so anything he says publicly has to be measured against what he wants.

Which leads directly to the second play: Lance Armstrong wants to compete again. To be clear, his cycling career is done. It's not that. Instead, he wants to compete in triathlons.

And so he's trying to figure out how to do that.

The challenge is that the one thing that has always been the hallmark of the Armstrong way has been stripped from him.

Which is: control.

In its damning report, issued in October, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency made plain that Armstrong had "ultimate control" over his own drug use, and the doping culture of his team, which it made plain was the most sophisticated and well-run scheme in sports history.

In particular, he controlled -- there was a code of silence on his team -- the fact that he doped to win.

As it all came crashing down, Armstrong sent out by Twitter the photo of himself lying around with his seven framed Tour de France jerseys.

The message could not have been more clear: Lance, king of the Alps, believed he was still in control.

That was a fundamental miscalculation.

You can bet that he and his legal team were stunned not only to see the riders he thought were his guys turn against him but, more important, the breadth and depth of the file USADA made public.

That was the game-changer.

Now, with sponsors fleeing or gone, he has to try to assert control of his narrative.

Thus, Oprah.

But choosing the time, place and manner of your "admission" -- or whatever this turns out to be -- is not real.

What's real is testimony, delivered under oath, preferably subject to cross-examination. Anything else is just noise.

If you want to lie under those circumstances -- like Armstrong did in 2006, when in connection with a contract dispute brought by the Texas company SCA Promotions, Inc., relating to a 2004 Tour de France bonus payment -- then you get to face the consequences.

Which is one of the tap-dances Armstrong has to try to perform now, and why anything he tells Oprah ought to be measured against what he said under oath six years ago.

It's not enough to be apologetic, or deliver contrition, or offer a confession of sorts.

Now is the time for accountability.

It's this way when it goes bad on Wall Street and in lots of other areas of American life. The authorities can get involved, and they might or might not have their own ideas about your finances, sometimes even your liberty interest, and then you have to play by their rules, not yours.

This is how these things go. This is what USADA has made clear, and why -- according to the New York Times -- Armstrong is in discussions with the U.S. Department of Justice to possibly testify in a federal whistle-blower case involving the U.S. Postal Service team.

It's not hard to figure out what USADA and the public authorities want to know: who funded the scheme and who else knew about it, and at what levels -- how high -- in international sport.

If you think about it, that thread of inquiry is not so different from the kind of thing you might find at your local courthouse. Imagine a drug case involving, say, methamphetamine or marijuana -- the cops and prosecutors are typically far more interested not just in the end user but in the financiers and in the protection.

Meanwhile, the International Olympic Committee, which is even now engaged in a far-reaching review of the roughly two dozen sports on the Summer Games calendar, has to be looking at what is going on in cycling with renewed interest. Baseball was kicked off the Olympic program in no small measure because of doping-related issues.

If it seems far-fetched to imagine the Olympics without cycling, it does not seem like much of a stretch to imagine cycling's top officials under intense scrutiny in the coming weeks and months, with even their IOC privileges at issue. USADA and the World Anti-Doping Agency both made plain Tuesday that they would offer no cooperation with an "independent commission" being set up by cycling's international governing body, which goes by the acronym UCI.

In the long run, the only thing that will clean up up the sport itself is, as USADA has proposed, a "Truth and Reconciliation" and amnesty program.

In the meantime, Armstrong is not going to get out of a lifetime ban by talking to Oprah. That's just -- ridiculous.

It's what he has to say when he's not on television that matters. And that's going to take a while yet to unfold.

That said, a read of the World Anti-Doping Code strongly suggests that even if he were to name names -- even big names -- the best he could do is, first, get a hearing and then, maybe, get life knocked down to eight years.

Armstrong is now 41. Eight years makes him 49.

Which sort of makes you wonder what the Oprah thing is really all about. And when, if ever, Lance Armstrong is going to tell the whole truth, and nothing but.

Because that would be a show worth watching.


Lindsey Van is a hero, too

It is perhaps Lindsey Van's lot in life that her name sounds a lot like Lindsey Vonn's, and while Lindsey Van is a world-champion ski jumper and her sport isn't even in the Olympics -- not yet, anyway -- Lindsey Vonn is an alpine racer and an Olympic gold-medalist who gets loads of attention and commercials and even a spot on "Law and Order" and generally gets treated like the American hero she is. But Lindsey Van is a hero, too.

Lindsey Van, the 2009 ski-jumping world champion, spent Monday in San Francisco with a needle in her right arm and another in her left.  One needle sucked blood out of her. The other put it back into her. Her blood will help save the life of a man she has never met.

All she knows about him is that he is 49 years old and has leukemia.

Any number of athletes talk a good game about doing the right thing. Then there is someone like Lindsey Van, who submitted herself to nasty drugs and endured the discomfort if not outright pain of a procedure that no one forced her to do -- that she did because it was simply the honorable and decent thing to do.

"I just think," she said beforehand, in an interview from Park City, Utah, where she lives, "it's the human thing to do."

She also said, "If my family was sick, if I was sick -- I would want someone to donate for me or my family. If you want to expect a transplant, you have to elect to give one. You have to donate yourself."

Such simple logic, such elemental humanity, and yet there is all the more dignity in the story because, after all, the rules are that Lindsey doesn't know who she's donating to.

This, though, didn't exactly start that way.

Lindsey's former roommate, Seun Adebiyi, had been diagnosed with a rare leukemia.

He needed a bone-marrow transplant.

He tried, and he searched. But he could not find a match. Naturally enough, he turned to his friends, and asked them to sign up for a donation registry.

So Lindsey did -- at a website called bethematch.com, which coordinates potential bone-marrow donors.

It turned out she was not a match for Seun.

As it turned out, she said, about a year ago, Sean did get a transplant, and he seems to be getting better.

Meanwhile, she said, after signing up at the website, she got a call. Did she want to follow through?

This is where the story turns. Instead of saying, no, I was in this only for Seun -- Lindsey said, sure, of course, I am glad to help.

Be the Match sent her a cheek swab; she sent it back.

At this point -- really, at any point -- she could have withdrawn her name from the registry.

That, though, was never really an option for Lindsey. Once she was in, she was in.

And then came another call: you're a perfect match, they said, for this 49-year-old man.

The rules don't permit Lindsey to meet him on the grounds that he -- like all recipients -- should focus strictly on recovery.

The timing, as it were, couldn't have turned out better. The 2011 ski-jump championships were held in February, in Norway, so the season was essentially over.

The International Olympic Committee is widely expected in the coming weeks to announce it will add women's ski jumping to the program for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. But because women's ski jumping is not yet formally part of the Olympic program, the blood-boosting drugs that Lindsey had to take last week at home in Utah to get her system ready for donation Monday in San Francisco -- well, none of that formally had to be of any concern to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Last week, in Park City, the doctors' orders were to sit around and do not much, to let the drugs do their thing. There was time to be philosophical.

"There's life outside sport," Lindsey was saying on the phone. "You have to be thankful for what you have. You have to give back. If it's something big like this -- ok, awesome. If it's something little, that's awesome, too.

"Life is bigger than sport. His life will change because of this. So for me -- why not jump on it?"

On Monday in San Francisco, the needles were in Lindsey's arms by 6:30 in the morning. She spent the next three hours watching her blood go out, and in, and spin -- that is, to a machine that spun her blood around and around, multiple times separating out plasma and stem cells, the stuff that will go into a 49-year-old man she has never met.

"I was feeling pretty good," she said afterward, though "a little strange after having been on the machine for hours."

There were supposed to be multiple sessions on the needles. But the technicians got all they needed from Lindsey that first time -- perhaps the benefit of being a world-class athlete.

"I plan to start training again, doing active activities, yoga and skiing again this week," she said. "It wasn't even a week of down time for me.

"If you consider that somebody who's going to receive what they took out of me has been sick for a very long time -- I really don't think this has been too much to ask.

"Really, I don't."