Crossing the Dark Line – Paralympian Suspended for Taking EPO as Armstrong Free to Enter Non-Cycling Events

Unbelievably, four years have passed since USADA’s ruling on Lance Armstrong following the publication of the Reasoned Decision – a damning and hefty document which explained the lengths that Armstrong and his cohorts had gone to in order to claim back-to-back Tour de France victories – EPO, HGH and testosterone filling their veins as they successfully circumvented the rules seven times in a row.

The USADA report led to Armstrong being banned from competitive sport and stripped of his yellow jerseys.  In a defiant move following the announcement of his fate, the disgraced athlete tweeted a photo of himself at home in Texas, surrounded by seven framed maillot jaune, bearing the moniker ‘back in Austin and just layin’ around’.

On the 24th of August this year, part of Armstrong’s complex sporting ban elapsed, allowing the Texan to compete in certain events once again.  “Armstrong can compete in a sanctioned event at a national or regional level in a sport other than cycling…that does not qualify him to compete in a national championship or international event” Ryan Madden of USADA explained to USA Today Sports.  Whether or not this permits Armstrong to compete in triathlons is somewhat confusing, although one would assume that he is free to do so given that triathletes are not governed by USA Cycling.

When asked his view on his eligibility to enter American triathlons, Armstrong himself was not certain as to the extent of the partial lifting of his ban.  “Good question” the Texan quipped, “my interpretation would be, yes, in probably 80% of the events out there, I am free to compete”.  Armstrong was a talented triathlete in his teenage years, and had expressed a desire to return to the sport after retiring from professional cycling.  In an interview with the BBC in 2015, Armstrong lamented his frustration at the extent of the USADA ban, which saw him unable to run marathons or compete in his beloved Iron Man events.  The ban meant that Armstrong could not enter the Chicago Marathon he had trained for, hoping to raise sponsorship money for his cancer charity. “I don’t think anybody thinks that’s right.  I want to get back to a place where I can help people”.

So will we see Lance at the start line now that he’s free to compete in non-cycling events?  “I am now 45 years old and just exercise these days for general fitness and for my sanity” Armstrong told USA Today Sports.  “My days of competing are behind me”.

Meanwhile, the hangover from the Armstrong era continues, as the reigning Paralympic individual pursuit champion, the Australian Michael Gallagher, tested positive for EPO at an out of competition event in July.  Gallagher, who won Paralympic gold in the individual pursuit events at London and Beijing, did not travel to Rio due to a provisional suspension as confirmed by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority.

In an open apology published on his Facebook page last week, Gallagher admitted taking the banned substance EPO, stating that he had crossed a ‘dark line’.  Blaming the pressure of expectation, low motivation and depression for his actions, the 37-year-old wrote “people deserve an explanation and I want to give it…worsening mental health issues and other personal issues in life lead to an inability to train like I used to…with the expectations of living up to past performances…the pressure mounted.  Rather than seek help I self-medicated to motivate, crossed the dark line, took short cuts and cheated”.

Gallagher assures his fans that he acted alone, without the knowledge of his coach or even his wife.  “My coach Dan…had no idea and I’m sure is devastated”.  The gold medallist wrote frankly that he is now seeking help ‘”to hopefully find the person I used to be”.

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