Lance Armstrong’s Situation from a Sports Med Perspective

Michael J. Ross, M.D. January 22nd, 2013

 I still remember the first bicycle race I ever saw. It was August, during the summer Olympics in 1984. Alexi Grewal, the American who struck gold in Mission Viejo, California was my new favorite athlete.

Months later, I learned that Alexi, like many of the other members of the US Olympic Cycling Team, had used blood transfusions to boost performance. Although not illegal by Olympic standards, the practice was frowned upon and became illegal shortly thereafter.

Fast forward 15 years, I was an amateur racing cyclist and physician with little time and less natural talent. To improve my cycling fitness, I turned to the research in training and performance. In this vast amount of information I found a great resource where terms such as High Intensity Interval Training, Undulating Periodization, Threshold Training and Maximum Aerobic Capacity were used and applied in study after study.

While I was delving into physiology, Lance was delving into the dark side of sports medicine, with a trainer who was only concerned with the numbers derived from a blood count, not from using Lance’s Physiology.

Worse, Lance and his “coach”, with a rudimentary knowledge of physiology, were spouting off terms and training methods that didn’t seem to build the type of athlete that Lance had become.

Yet every summer for 7 years, I sat riveted to the climbs in the Alps and the Pyrenees, the dramatic races against the clock and the doping accusations.

For the past 6 months, I have learned for certain what I’ve heard whispered behind closed doors, that Lance Armstrongs efforts in the races were as much the result of chemistry and unscrupulous physicians as they were his efforts in training.

While I am disappointed in all of those involved, I am relieved to learn that stellar performances don’t come from ridiculous training plans.

Only half of what we do in training makes a difference, the only problem is figuring out which half. Unfortunately for those involved with this ongoing probe into cycling, we are learning that the half they focused on is based on manipulating the physiology of the rider in illegal, unethical and potentially dangerous methods.

As cycling gets up and brushes itself off, hopefully we can focus on the important half.

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