RATH: Lancing Faith

Clyde Rathbone Columnist

By Clyde Rathbone, Clyde Rathbone is a Roar Expert


73 Have your say

    Lance Armstrong is headed for court. (Image: Supplied)

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    Gripping, riveting, captivating. Take your pick of adjectives, the fact is, Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey was that rare type of television that captures the world’s attention.

    As the interview unfolded it became increasingly clear that Armstrong, if not a full blown sociopath certainly possesses many of the characteristics usually associated with one.

    This should (if we’re thinking rationally) evoke feelings of sympathy for Armstrong rather than the anger and vitriol it appears to have produced. After all, no-one would choose the mind of a sociopath any more than one would choose to develop cancer.

    While much of the commentary on the Armstrong saga centres on an incredible tale of deceit and denial, I can’t help but find myself drawn to a seemingly peripheral aspect of this story. Namely, the issue of belief.

    Lance Armstrong personified the triumph of the human spirit: the cancer patient who beat the disease and then conquered the toughest race on the planet, seven times. His story was so powerful, so intoxicating that he became a symbol of hope and courage to millions.

    As the myth grew so too did the untruths required to perpetuate it. Until all that was left was a snowball of lies, forging ahead, at all costs, no matter what.

    The foundation of Livestrong ensured there were would be no lack of willing voices to support the Armstrong narrative. A yellow army of disciples, each one spreading the gospel and each a shining example of how belief is often formed on the basis of what we would like to be true rather than what is likely to be true.

    Each time Armstrong raced and won, or defended himself against seemingly corrupt accusations of doping his legend grew, and any criticism of Armstrong became public relations suicide for those who dared. His defence included ruthless intimidation, lawsuits and slander. Armstrong’s most devout supporters added death threats to the arsenal.

    Although the majority of Armstrong’s supporters were not zealots they to helped spread false beliefs. As the evidence against Armstrong mounted we were told his former team mates were all bitter, desperate and jealous.

    We were told that he rode clean for years whilst all around him doped. For many these extraordinary claims did not require extraordinary evidence, Armstrong’s word was good enough.

    Dogma is often responsible for that thinking which prevents us from seeing reality for what it is. And it’s exactly this type of thinking that allowed the Armstrong myth to survive in the face of overwhelming evidence. Perhaps most sickeningly bad arguments in his defence were supported by those who pointed to his charitable work as evidence of his integrity.

    Which brings me to the real hero of this story: Science.

    Unfortunately for Armstrong, science does not care about myths, fables and legends, or what we’d like to believe. Science is interested only in the truth.

    For years, Armstrong hid amongst the gaps provided by scientific ignorance, always one step ahead of drug testing protocols. Until he wasn’t. Retroactive tests of Armstrong samples produced a raft of positive results. Then his biological passport indicated a less than one in a million chance that his biomarker variances could have occurred naturally.

    Without hard evidence it would always have been Armstrong’s iron clad word vs the dissension of mere mortals. Had not science unshackled us from the myth how many of us would continue to spread it? How many of us would remain not simply ignorant but defiantly so?

    Yesterday Armstrong said of his life: “I mean it’s just this mythic, perfect story, and it wasn’t true.”

    What is true, is that the Armstrong myth is now an empty space. Filling that space with something real remains a battle between what Armstrong has done in his life to date and what he chooses to do with the time he has left.

    There are many lessons to be garnered from the rise and fall of Lance Armstrong. None more important than the idea that curiosity, scepticism and reason are the greatest means by which we can pursue truth and meaning in our lives.

    All that’s required to escape irrational beliefs is the courage to follow evidence and reason wherever they may lead.

    Clyde Rathbone
    Clyde Rathbone

    Former Wallaby & Brumby Clyde Rathbone retired from rugby in 2014. Clyde is a writer, speaker and technology startup founder. A Roar columnist since 2012, you can follow Clyde via his Twitter page.

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    The Crowd Says (73)

    • Roar Guru

      January 21st 2013 @ 9:17am
      sheek said | January 21st 2013 @ 9:17am | ! Report

      Good morning Rath,

      “Gripping, riveting, captivating.”

      Sorry, it wasn’t any of this. Perhaps if we had to choose one of the three words above, ‘gripping’ would fit the bill. All concerned were gripping their money made from the interview as hard as they could. But as a genuine expose or confession, nah!

      Oprah made money, the TV network made money, sponsors advertising made money & I have no doubt lance made money, perhaps under the table.

      Oprah is a drama queen & her show is a soap opera. The whole thing was a publicity stunt, a sham. Her interviews lack substance. They are merely ratings fodder, little more.

      Fortunately, as you point out, Armstrong was exposed by science. The Oprah interview was a sideshow that will hopefully disappear in history.

      • January 21st 2013 @ 9:33am
        Pot Stirrer said | January 21st 2013 @ 9:33am | ! Report

        +1, Also i cant get my Head around how he was Knowingly doing what he was for the publics adoraton which turned out to be a way of making money out of cancer. On the bright side if he wasnt a professional cyclist he prob would have been a serial killer.

        • January 21st 2013 @ 11:50am
          nickoldschool said | January 21st 2013 @ 11:50am | ! Report

          Oprah didn’t have the knowledge, and probably will, to expose LA as he really is. IMO, the show’s aim was to start LA’s redemption process with the masses and not come clean as some suggested beforehand. It did probably succeed in doing this.

          Rath, further to sheek’s comments, I would like to add that I don’t see how one can have sympathy for this man. Pity maybe, but definitely no sympathy.

          I.o your ‘gripping, captivating, riveting’, My three words for the show would be ‘ disturbing, creepy and machiavellian’. Nice prose btw, glad you’re a rugby guy :).

      • January 21st 2013 @ 6:17pm
        Rath said | January 21st 2013 @ 6:17pm | ! Report


        The Oprah interview was never going to lead to much (that is not already known) in terms of facts or details regarding the Armstrong saga. From the perspective that the interview gave us insight into Armstrong as a person I found it truly fascinating.

        From the cold lack of remorse, the mannerisms, facial expressions, contradictions and feigned emotions every second of the interview was a study of a man clearly far removed from his comfort zone. As an observational insight into one example of the human condition It was very interesting to me.

        • January 21st 2013 @ 6:23pm
          sittingbison said | January 21st 2013 @ 6:23pm | ! Report

          yup I agree completely Rath, and I suspect this element was not considered by the PR machine and lawyers. I think they seriously miscalculated, the world has now see these aspects of Lance long kept hidden

    • January 21st 2013 @ 9:33am
      jameswm said | January 21st 2013 @ 9:33am | ! Report

      Good to see you branching out into other areas Rath, well written.

      My biggest question after this is centres around truth. That is, how much is he lying now?

      Oprah’s interviewing style centred on emotions and feeling, rather than a strict cross-examination on the evidence. For example, when Lance claimed to haave been clean since 2005, she didn’t challenge this statement. Why didn’t she say “so what do you have to say about the biological passport tests that say there’s less than a one in a million chance you were clean in (2009 I think was the year)”?

      The interview showed he was a “horrible person”, as my wife put it. But can he change, can a leopard change his spots. Can he seek true redemption?

      Not on current evidence. He’s still worried more about himself.

      • January 21st 2013 @ 6:22pm
        Rath said | January 21st 2013 @ 6:22pm | ! Report

        I’m of the opinion that the question is not “can he change” but rather can any person prevent change. Our consciousness is effected by all inputs, the idea that self is a static ‘object’ makes no sense to me, it is always in flux.

        • Roar Guru

          January 21st 2013 @ 11:42pm
          SandBox said | January 21st 2013 @ 11:42pm | ! Report

          Stoics would say we are like a dog leashed to an unpredictable cart. We have some control over our path, but can not wander wherever we please.

          People like LA and Jobs were opposite in many ways, yet shared similar reality distortion fields. These RDFs eventually crumbled, and we were left witnessing two men tied to the same cart that the rest of us are tied to.

    • January 21st 2013 @ 9:47am
      MV Dave said | January 21st 2013 @ 9:47am | ! Report

      Can’t see how Science is the real hero…surely those that spoke up about his cheating and continued to do so despite his abuse and law suits…thinking the Irish lady O’Reilly and the one that overheard the conversation in the hospital room…hope they get some recognition for what they went through.

      • January 21st 2013 @ 6:25pm
        Rath said | January 21st 2013 @ 6:25pm | ! Report

      • January 21st 2013 @ 6:25pm
        Rath said | January 21st 2013 @ 6:25pm | ! Report

        Without hard evidence those who spoke out would constantly have pitted their word against Armstrong’s. It’s clear how that battle would have (was) turning out.

        Of course all the people who continued to speak the truth deserve credit, the point being that without science we would not be at the point where their dissension was taken seriously, at least not by the wider public.

        • January 24th 2013 @ 1:11pm
          Clint said | January 24th 2013 @ 1:11pm | ! Report

          Would it also be true to say that without science, Lance and his team of doctors would have never had the knowledge to run ‘the most sophisticated doping programme ever’? Is it not merely a case now that the science in the hands of the “good guys”, has finally caught up with science in the hands of the “bad guys”?

    • Editor

      January 21st 2013 @ 11:11am
      Zac Zavos said | January 21st 2013 @ 11:11am | ! Report

      Cracking piece Rath – this is the type of writing that makes, in my opinion, The Roar so unique.

      Thanks for sharing your views with us.

      • January 21st 2013 @ 3:46pm
        Ted said | January 21st 2013 @ 3:46pm | ! Report

        mate….you talking up the site or what?

    • January 21st 2013 @ 11:23am
      sledgeandhammer said | January 21st 2013 @ 11:23am | ! Report

      There was a great article in the herald the other day which put forward a very strong argument for legalising performance enhancing drugs. I agree with this stance and don’t believe for a minute that Lance Armstrong is a cheat. EPO, steroids and the like do not make poor athletes great, they don’t allow mediocre talent to rise to the top. They simply allow athletes to train harder and recover more quickly. This is something which is done regardless of drugs, through use of caffeine, recovery chambers, ice baths, specialised equipment, etc, etc. There is no level playing field, money does buy success regardless of drugs. Drugs are also not dangerous to health if administered correctly. In this day and age, if we have the technology, let’s use it. And by technology I don’t just mean carbon fibre bikes, I also include EPO and steroids.

      • January 21st 2013 @ 11:41am
        jameswm said | January 21st 2013 @ 11:41am | ! Report

        Nah – some people react better to PEDs than others.

        Also, where do you draw the line with kids and over-ambitious parents?

      • January 21st 2013 @ 2:47pm
        simmo green said | January 21st 2013 @ 2:47pm | ! Report

        I’m not so concerned about Armstrong, I’m more concerned about the mediocre reporting that has featured so heavily throughout this saga. I cannot think of one author that has even a fundamental understanding of Pro Cycling, it’s history, nor why drugs have been prevalent for more than ninety years. Australians think the definition of an arduous athletic performance is Peter Siddle bowling thirty overs, or Paul Gallen playing the full eighty, they have no concept of what the body is required to do throughout the course of a Pro Cycling season. You could do worse than suck up these words from the winner of the TDF in 1923, Henri Pelissier:-

        ‘You have no idea what the Tour de France is”, Henri said. “It’s a Calvary. Worse than that, because the road to the Cross has only 14 stations and ours has 15. We suffer from the start to the end. You want to know how we keep going? Here…” He pulled a phial from his bag. “That’s cocaine, for our eyes. This is chloroform, for our gums.”This”, Ville said, emptying his shoulder bag “is liniment to put warmth back into our knees.”And pills. Do you want to see pills? Have a look, here are the pills.” Each pulled out three boxes.
        “The truth is”, Francis said, “that we keep going on dynamite.’Henri spoke of being as white as shrouds once the dirt of the day had been washed off, then of their bodies being drained by diarrhoea, before continuing:

        “At night, in our rooms, we can’t sleep. We twitch and dance and jig about as though we were doing St Vitus’s Dance…”
        “There’s less flesh on our bodies than on a skeleton”, Francis said.

        The moralising is sickening. Where were you people when Ian Thorpe returned two unusually high readings, that Swimming Australia were told not once, by twice by FINA to investigate? Have you studied Cadel Evans time in the Pro peloton? Do you know which teams he has worked for and what their history reveals?

        I have no love for Armstrong, but the bloke was the best rider in each of his TDF victories, as were Eddie Merckx, Hinault, Indurain, Anquetil, Coppi, Bartali and Fignon before him.

        • January 21st 2013 @ 2:54pm
          Pot Stirrer said | January 21st 2013 @ 2:54pm | ! Report

          You sound like a cyclist who is desperatley trying to not feel duped by his hero. Or that the sport of cycling is some how more arduos than any other. If no one took any of what you said to get an advantage than none of them would need to. Its not a race against the clock. Its race against the other riders

          • January 21st 2013 @ 3:14pm
            simmo green said | January 21st 2013 @ 3:14pm | ! Report

            I don’t have cycling ‘heroes’, but I do have profound respect for Eddie Merckx and his achievements. There is no sport as arduous or physically demanding as cycling, there’s no ‘somehow’ about that. The Tour includes a prologue and two individual TT’s, all contests against the clock. In case you hadn’t noticed the event includes several stages in both the Pyrenees and the Alps, where putting time and distance between you and your opponents is key to success. The rider who excels in these disciplines will usually find himself on the podium in Paris.

            • January 21st 2013 @ 3:50pm
              Pot Stirrer said | January 21st 2013 @ 3:50pm | ! Report

              Fair enough but do you not question the whole sport now ? I do.

              • January 22nd 2013 @ 8:39am
                simmo green said | January 22nd 2013 @ 8:39am | ! Report

                No, the Armstrong saga does not make me question the integrity of the sport because drugs have been a fact of life in the Peloton for more than ninety years. The assumption is that they’re PEDs that give riders a clear advantage over their rivals, which is a flawed position. There is strong medical evidence to suggest that riders who do not use EPO could not complete a major Tour. EPO allows riders to maintain a required power output for a longer period before exhaustion. Waking up with a haemocrit level of 52% allows you to compete the next day, 38% means you can’t get out of bed. The expectations of the UCI, Tour Organisers, Sponsors and the Media are unreasonable. If the riders had their way the Tour would last two weeks, have three rest days and stages limited to 150kms. Won’t happen. Never liked Armstrong personally, but he did raise $500mill more for cancer than the AJC/Tabcorp or the Waterhouses ever did

              • January 22nd 2013 @ 8:51am
                MV Dave said | January 22nd 2013 @ 8:51am | ! Report

                So drugs have been part of Cycling for 90 years…and this is still referred to as a sport? That the people…authorities, officials, riders, media etc have allowed this to happen is a pretty sad reflection on this ‘Sport’. How many riders have died due to drugs in Cycling? The fact that no result in the TdF or presumably other major cycling events can be trusted for legitimacy seems to be the ‘Sports’ reward for having kept its proverbial head in the sand for so many years.

      • January 21st 2013 @ 6:39pm
        Rath said | January 21st 2013 @ 6:39pm | ! Report

        If there was a single clean rider competing against Armstrong then by definition he is a cheat, how is this not clear?

        In the future I think science will produce a number of “supplements” that mimic the action of PED without the deleterious side effects. Until then I think it’s immoral to allow them in sport.

        Armstrong by his own admission does not believe that we could have achieved what he did without PED. Suggesting drug assisted athletes do not possess a huge advantage over clean athletes is to fail to understand the effects of modern day PED.

        Whether an athlete is poor, mediocre or outstanding is irrelevant, taking illegal drugs provides a doper with an unfair advantage over a clean one.

        • January 21st 2013 @ 7:01pm
          sledgeandhammer said | January 21st 2013 @ 7:01pm | ! Report

          Personally I don’t like the terminology ‘doper’ and ‘illegal drugs’ as it sounds very emotive and perhaps a tad ideological. If we look at the issue from a rational point of view, than we might discover that having accredited doctors on hand to administer a safe level of PEDs is not such a bad thing, particularly for sports such as cycling.

          In terms of fairness, sport isn’t fair. Regardless of drugs some athletes from certain countries have greater access to facilities, coaching and diet which all give them as much advantage as PEDs when compared to athletes from less developed nations. So on the one hand we are fine with protein shakes, hyperbaric chambers and high altitude training, but mention the word ‘drug’ and suddenly our morals are offended.

          Cheating is an interesting accusation as well. I guess if breaking the rules of the sport is cheating, than Armstrong was a cheat. This doesn’t however mean he was underserving of his victories. Personally I’m not a blind believer in rules, which are man made, and often politically motivated to begin with. So the fact Armstrong broke some rules doesn’t bother me.

          • January 21st 2013 @ 9:03pm
            Rath said | January 21st 2013 @ 9:03pm | ! Report


            Not liking particular words has nothing to do with them being accurate descriptions. If something is both a drug and illegal it seems strange to consider the term ‘illegal drug” an emotive description rather than a factual one.

            It’s incredibly naive to think that legalising PED would lead to “accredited doctors on hand to administer a safe level of PEDs”

            Comparing lower quality facilities or coaching to PED usage is a very poor false equivalency argument. Poor coaching or facilities raise no moral questions, they are merely a fact of circumstance. Our morals are offended by the use of drugs because they raise a very long list of moral and ethical questions.

            Again it’s silly to group all rules together, some are superfluous while others are clearly important. Not being a blind believer in rules requires one to assess each rule individually.

            What Armstrong did is so clearly unethical that it bothers me that it seems not to have bothered you.

        • January 22nd 2013 @ 3:43pm
          simmo green said | January 22nd 2013 @ 3:43pm | ! Report

          I think you’re defending grimly in the ‘red zone’ here mate, that’s a flimsy default position. Traditionally, those riders who have resisted their team’s special ‘medical programmes’ have either not been hired or found themselves out a job. Could I suggest you read Paul Kimmage’s book, ‘A Rough Ride’, among others.

          I keep saying it, but as a society we have little understanding of Pro Cycling, but are happy to moralise and make judgements about it’s participants. No one wants to discuss the endurance/recovery issue in relation to EPO or transfusions, they just assume that they’re PED’s pure and simple. The question you need to ask yourself is what sort of TDF will we have when riders are operating with normal haematocrit levels? The answer is one where less than half of them will make Paris

          It’s not footy, cricket, swimming, rowing or triathlons, it’s a brutal and unyielding sport, in an incredibly competitive atmosphere. If you truly look at what these guys do between January and November, it’s not possible on a diet of gatorade and cream buns

          • January 24th 2013 @ 12:02am
            Matt h said | January 24th 2013 @ 12:02am | ! Report

            I’m sorry, your position is just horrifying. I assume that if your 10 year old takes up cycling you will encourage him to take PED’s? When he dies of a heart attack at 42 will you say it was worth it? If this is the reality of the sport then it needs to be banned.

            • January 24th 2013 @ 10:53am
              simmo green said | January 24th 2013 @ 10:53am | ! Report

              I raced both the track and road at an acceptable level domestically and often ride with my kids, mostly on the trails these days. All of us love the sport in it’s various forms. Riders who aspire to race professionally know well in advance how unrelenting and hard the sport is and what’s required to race at a constantly high standard. It’s never been a well guarded secret. The sport itself is not the issue, the UCI and those profit from Pro Cycling are the real culprits, not the Armstrongs

              • January 24th 2013 @ 11:11am
                Pot Stirrer said | January 24th 2013 @ 11:11am | ! Report

                Your in Denial. Your hero is nothing more than a con artist, and thats the prob the sadest part. All those fans he has let down by making them believe in a lie.

    • January 21st 2013 @ 12:31pm
      Beardan said | January 21st 2013 @ 12:31pm | ! Report

      science is the hero? Pretty sure it would have been scientists pumping him full of drugs in the first place. The real hero is the truth, which first the first time in 15 years Armstrong finally spoke. Maybe not the total truth, but more than the lies and jibber he has dished up over the last 15 years.

      • Roar Guru

        January 21st 2013 @ 1:39pm
        Rickety Knees said | January 21st 2013 @ 1:39pm | ! Report

        Science produced the truth – the USADA had the guts to chase Armstrong down ….

        • January 21st 2013 @ 1:48pm
          jameswm said | January 21st 2013 @ 1:48pm | ! Report

          Yeah science was on both sides.

          As for the truth, meh, maybe about 70% of it was the truth. Seriously, will this guy ever learn?

        • January 21st 2013 @ 2:26pm
          Beardan said | January 21st 2013 @ 2:26pm | ! Report

          Pretty sure you will find it was Armstrong who was saying ‘yes’ to the questions in regards to the truth.

          • January 21st 2013 @ 5:36pm
            jameswm said | January 21st 2013 @ 5:36pm | ! Report

            He said yes to about the first 4 questions. After that, it was muddled and non-admissions. He even claimed he’s been clean since 2005, when USADA said his blood passport testing in 2009 said there’s less than a 1 in a million chance he was clean then.

            Even you conceded he didn’t say the total truth.

      • January 21st 2013 @ 6:50pm
        Rath said | January 21st 2013 @ 6:50pm | ! Report

        You’ve made the distinction between science and scientists and yet still manage to conflate them in failing to make a good point.

        Science is not perfect but it is far and away the best instrument humanity possesses in pursuing truth. Armstrong was forced into truth by people with science on their side.

        • January 21st 2013 @ 9:20pm
          Beardan said | January 21st 2013 @ 9:20pm | ! Report

          Can we leave the boring ‘science is my hero’ cliche’s to someone from NASA. If Science was so unbelievable why did he pass 500 drug tests? See how good Science went in those 500 drug tests.

          • January 21st 2013 @ 9:35pm
            Rath said | January 21st 2013 @ 9:35pm | ! Report


            Your response is anything but boring!

            “See how good Science went in those 500 drug test”

            What does this sentence mean?


            • January 22nd 2013 @ 1:01am
              Beardan said | January 22nd 2013 @ 1:01am | ! Report

              let me keep it simple for you. You see, Armstrong had 500 drug tests, and he passed all of them. All of them. 100%. How did Science go then? I’m starting to think you are out of your depth here Rathbone.

              • January 22nd 2013 @ 6:55am
                Rath said | January 22nd 2013 @ 6:55am | ! Report


                If keeping it ‘simple’ means getting it dead wrong you’ve certainly done that. LA had roughly 275 drug tests in his career, not 500.

                Before there was a test for EPO there was little chance that LA could have returned a positive for any of his tests. Then it’s likely that either the drugs were out of his system before the in competition testing or he used a masking agent, we just can’t know.

                The point is that the testing protocols evolved so that his blood samples did test positive.

                When you present science or scientists with a problem it’s not reasonable to think they can solve it immediately, science is not perfect, it’s a process. That said, without good evidence enabling those people pursuing the truth about LA the world would have a very different view of the man today.

              • January 22nd 2013 @ 10:18am
                jameswm said | January 22nd 2013 @ 10:18am | ! Report

                Armstrong did not pass all of them. weren’t you watching the interview? He tested positive for a corticosteroid in 1999, and a doctor backdated a prescription to cover it up. He admitted that I think.

                There was also a tour de Suisse one in 2001 – jury’s out on that, but who believes him?

                So the “I never tested positive” line, which Lance is still peddling, is plain wrong. He’s still lying.

              • January 22nd 2013 @ 11:54pm
                Steve said | January 22nd 2013 @ 11:54pm | ! Report

                Looks like Rathbone wasn’t out his depth after all!

              • January 23rd 2013 @ 12:19am
                Beardan said | January 23rd 2013 @ 12:19am | ! Report

                Where did you magically pluck the 275 number from? According to what ive read and what the voice of cycling Phil Liggett said on sky sports radio, it was 500. So producing magical numbers that are incorrect isnt helping your argument.

                Anyway lets for your sake the magical number of 275 is correct. Passing 275 drug tests when you are up to your eye balls in it isnt exactly a great achievement for Science, but at least they tried. Bit like your good self.

              • January 23rd 2013 @ 6:49am
                Steve said | January 23rd 2013 @ 6:49am | ! Report

                Still ignoring the fact he failed one then?

              • January 25th 2013 @ 10:01am
                stillmatic1 said | January 25th 2013 @ 10:01am | ! Report

                so a guy has never failed a breath analysis test and then found that test to be wrong, steve? i would say rathbone and his love of science took a bit of a hit. if we assume (correctly) that science is always trying to find a better answer then we must also assume that society will get over this obsession of what is an illegal drug and what isnt. im sure rathbone has used some sort of drug to help his recovery that years ago wasnt legal. to say a drug is legal or illegal is a ridiculous position to have, and hardly shows someone to be enlightened. what is a worse drug? alcohol or an EPO? cigarette or an EPO? oh, but they get a pass because EPO’s arent taxed by governments and generate revenue?

                this isnt about science, its about people moralising over what are acceptable drugs and which are not. we have 2 drugs that do so much more damage than those taken by sportsmen and yet the enlightened amongst us attack the sportsmen?? get a grip people, he took drugs to help him ride a bike!!