Armstrong cites ‘unconstitutional witch hunt’ in USADA fight

On Thursday evening, cyclist Lance Armstrong announced that he would not pursue a defense against doping charges by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).

This followed a Monday ruling by a federal judge in Texas that the USADA had the authority to continue with its case against the seven-time Tour de France winner and Olympic medalist.

In his two-page statement, Armstrong called the USADA’s investigation an “unconstitutional witch hunt” and said he would “no longer address this issue, regardless of the circumstances.” Armstrong cited the toll the investigation had taken on his family and his LiveSTRONG foundation as the reason for his decision.

Lance Armstrong has long been one of the most polarizing athletes in international competition following his battle with cancer, an unlikely 1999 Tour de France victory and the six other championships that followed.

The Texas native was regarded as one of the premier cyclists in the world prior to his cancer diagnosis in 1996. Armstrong was a world champion. However,  he had struggled in cycling’s premier event, the Tour de France, winning two stages but also failing to complete the grueling three week event.

In October 1996, Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain and given less than a 50 percent chance of making a full recovery.

After an aggressive treatment battle, Armstrong was declared cancer free and returned to competitive cycling in 1998. He captured his first Tour de France victory in 1999 and became a worldwide hero and celebrity.

He would follow that victory with six more in the next six years to become arguably the most dominant cyclist ever.

In 1997 he founded the LiveSTRONG foundation which has raised almost $500 million for cancer research by launching a fashion craze with its yellow LiveSTRONG bracelets.

Armstrong announced his retirement following the 2005 Tour de France only to announce that he would ride the event again in 2009 and eventually 2010 before officially retiring in 2011.

Armstrong’s courage and determination have made him a hero to millions throughout the world but also an enemy to many who believe that his story is just too good to be true including the USADA.

Created in 2000, the USADA is a non-profit, non-governmental organization recognized by Congress, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and various other international sporting federations as the official national anti-doping agency of the United States.

The USADA has the authority to execute a national anti-doping program that includes testing athletes and adjudicating offenses.

Since Armstrong’s miraculous comeback and rise to cycling dominance, allegations of blood doping and steroid use have plagued him.

Armstrong routinely points to the hundreds of tests he has endured throughout his 20-year career without a failed result as proof of his innocence.

However, since his comeback in 2009, the allegations have become stronger. The U.S .Department of Justice conducted a two-year investigation into claims that Armstrong used steroids and EPO (erythropoietin), which increases red-blood cells in the body.

Among the witnesses that appeared before the Los Angeles grand-jury were former Armstrong team mates Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton. Landis was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France victory after testing positive for increased levels of testosterone and Hamilton lost his 2004 Gold Medal after test revealed he had received a blood transfusion.

Both men have claimed that Armstrong used performance enhancing drugs and encouraged others to do the same. In February of this year, federal prosecutors announced that they had closed their investigation without filing charges against Armstrong, citing insufficient evidence in the case.

In June, the USADA filed formal charges against Armstrong that he possessed, used, and trafficked banned substances including blood transfusions, EPO, and steroids. The USADA claimed that it had evidence including the testimony of at least 10 former teammates, emails, and blood samples from 2009-2010 that were consistent with blood doping.

Armstrong responded by filing suit against the USADA in Texas, challenging the USADA jurisdiction in the case and claiming that the USADA arbitration process violated his Sixth Amendment due process rights. Armstrong was backed in his challenge by the U.S. and International cycling unions.

On Monday, Judge Sam Sparks dismissed Armstrong’s suit, claiming that the due process charges we without merit and that the case was best settled “through the well-established system of international arbitration.”

Sparks also questioned the motives of the USADA in investigating the retired former champion and whether or not the investigation helped the cause of anti-doping in sports. The ruling allowed the USADA to proceed with its charges and left Armstrong with a Friday deadline to declare whether or not he intended to enter the USADA’s arbitration process.

According to USADA procedures,  a charged athlete may either accept the charges and proposed sanctions or take the case to arbitration. By declining to take his case to arbitration, Armstrong accepted the charges and the proposed sanctions which include the forfeiture of all titles and earnings from 1998-2011 and a lifetime ban from international competitions.

Despite his claims of innocence, both USADA and WADA officials have used Armstrong’s decision as an indication of merits of the charges.

The International Cycling Union, which has backed Armstrong and challenged USADA jurisdiction in this case, has said that it  will wait for an explanation of the decision by USADA, which is required by the World Anti-Doping Convention in cases where no hearing is held.

The UCI has the option of taking its case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport if it believes that the USADA’s actions are unwarranted. The Switzerland-based CAS is the final authority in disputes involving international athletics.

Armstrong decision to withdraw from the arbitration process leaves him with few options. He can appeal the federal courts decision or pursue an appeal to the CAS. However, either option is unlikely because he has expressed a desire to move on and decided to forgo the USADA arbitration process before appealing to a high court.

Whatever the outcome of the appeals, it is unlikely that the story will end with Lance Armstrong’s decision not to challenge the USADA’s charges as the debate about his performance and legacy will continue.

Mike Simzak is the Youth Programs Coordinator at the National Constitution Center and the official sports writer for Constitution Daily.

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