Woe unto ye, Roid Landis.
I find myself torn about this case – on the one hand I feel that he is probably guilty, which leads me to think, of course, fuck him. But then a sneaking suspicion creeps into my thoughts – what if the French system is corrupt? What if, as he claims, someone did have it in for him? What if he’s innocent? I must say, on this score, the virulence and grandeur of his defense does give me pause. Does someone who KNOWS he’s guilty beyond the shadow of a doubt carry on in this way? Camus famously wrote that the innocent is the person who explains nothing. In this case, I wonder if it could be the complete opposite.
Everyone it seems who is ever caught doping on a grand scale tries to find some little excuse in the moment, and they are usually preposterous explanations (as was Floyd’s remember – the old “I drank too much whiskey and that made me test positive for synthetic testosterone” excuse) but as time passes, they tend to accept their fate or just shut up about it. Landis has gone apeshit over this for over a year now. Again, this is most likely due to the fact that he improbably won the Tour de France and then got caught doping and he just can’t get get over how close he was to cycling Valhalla (“I’d'a gotten away with it too if it weren’t for those confounded kids…”). But just the slightest possibility that he could be innocent raises an interesting question about the implications of the doping era. In general, when we think about doping in sport, we think about how the offenders are cheating, leaving those who choose not to cheat with no chance of competing. We want the cheaters caught and exposed. We never think about how the whole specter of doping has changed the way that sports are contested, and that the evermore complicated tests and rules that they engender have necessary flaws, that they can be unfair and at times just out and out wrong. We worry excessively about punishing the guilty, but to this point we have not worried about unjustly punishing the innocent, although such an injustice seems inevitable.
The two greatest victims of the doping generation that I can think of were both Olympians. At the 1972 Munich Games, American swimmer Rick DeMont was stripped of his gold medal in the 400m free after traces of ephedrine were found in his urine. He was subsequently prevented by the USOC from competing in the 1500m, an event he was favored to win. DeMont did indeed have ephedrine in his system – he was a chronic asthma sufferer and his medication, as does most asthma medication, included ephedrine. He had disclosed this to the IOC and gotten his medicines cleared by the powers that be. It was a red tape screwup of the highest order and stole DeMont’s greatest moment. Of course, this bit of unpleasantness was completely forgotten once the Munich Massacre took place, and DeMont was a mere footnote to the ’72 Games. He spent years afterward trying to clear his name and get his medal back. In 2001, the USOC admitted the mistake – the IOC has yet to do the same.
At the Sydney Olympics in 2000, Romanian gymnast Andrea Raducan won the women’s gymnastics all-around title, only to have it stripped from her two days later for testing positive for pseudo-ephedrine. She had taken cold medicine to treat a fever and cough the night before the event, medicine prescribed for her by the Romanian team physician. The IOC stood firm on its decision, saying that the rules were the rules despite the fact that the girl was clearly a victim of the system. I vividly remember the head of the Romanian Olympic delegation, the vampyric Ion Tiriac, arguing strenuously in a press conference that the vicissitudes of the doping situation had gotten out of control. “Only the Americans can afford to be on top of all the chemical innovations and tests and procedures,” he said, or something to that effect, and though the U.S.-bashing was a blatant piece of propaganda, nevertheless there was a valid point there. Raducan eventually got her gold medal back, by the way, but not through official means. The silver medalist at Sydney was also Romanian, Simona Amanar. After first refusing to accept the gold medal following Raducan’s disqualification, she thought better of her decision and took the gold back to Romania to give to Raducan.
Of course, both DeMont and Raducan were victims of the doping mania in a particular way – testing positive for substances that some might argue never needed to be banned in the first place (how much edge does a gymnast hope to gain from pseudo-ephedrine anyway?). The Landis situation is one that, if he ever were able to prove his innocence, would be a doping injustice on a much different scale and might shake up the entire business of drug-testing in sport. Everyone wants to hang the guilty at all costs until a guiltless man ends up in the noose. For now, it seems that Floyd Landis is not that man. But I tell you, it’s going to be somebody, and it’s going to be soon.