Monthly Archives: October 17, 2021

The first tennis match I ever saw was a Davis Cup match in Los Angeles in the early 60s. Or maybe it was the late 50s. Time certainly flies by in the tennis scheme of things. We were playing the Aussies, as usual, with McKinley and Ralston and that red-headed guy with the massive wrist, Rod Laver. I remember the charged up atmosphere and thinking, “Gee, this tennis watching could be fun.” Much has happened since Davis Cup back then. The excitement level dropped off considerably over the years as the rest of the tennis world caught up to us. Now it’s the Americans who aren’t into Davis Cup like they used to be.

Perhaps this may account for Davis Cup Captain Patrick McEnroe’s rather dour-sounding comment after the USA lost the deciding fourth match on Sunday: “It was a classic Davis Cup match, and I’m only sorry so many people back home won’t appreciate just what it takes for both guys to play at that level for nearly five hours.” This may have been aimed at the OLN Network which covered the match but with a time delay. Anyone on the internet would have known the outcome ahead of time.

But if you could manage your way around the TV schedule, then you got a great match. It was certainly the longest fifth set in World Group play since ’85, running to 17-15 for a combined total of 4 hours and 48 minutes. Unfortunately, it was a match you hate to see anyone lose, especially an American.

Andy Roddick hauled himself out of the doldrums of being two sets down and nearly came back to pull it out in five sets. But not quite. Although Roddick played well as the match went on, he could not cash in on the big moments in the match, which kept slipping away from him. Like his golden opportunity in the fifth set after Roddick had just broken Tursunov and got ready to serve the match out. Only he didn’t. Tursunov crushed another great cross court forehand winner for the early lead, then pounded a good return off of a big Roddick serve for 15-30. Then Roddick netted an easy forehand for 15-40. He saved one break point then pulled a forehand wide and Tursunov was given new life.

You felt for Tursunov, though, who played his way to a two-set lead only to see it start to go. He’s a guy who supposedly can’t play on clay, a guy who got dropped into the action when the coach decided at the last moment to play a big server as opposed to the modest-serving Mikhail Youzhny. Tursunov has been my pick for Most Improved Guy this year. We have been singing his potential since the final at Los Angeles in the summer where he lost a close match to Tommy Haas.

The only stick on the Russian was that he sometimes implodes at key moments, or gets impatient. Today he kept his brain under control. The Russian took it to Roddick both on his serve and with an incredible display of forehand power. Big crushing cross court shots for outright winners, little angled cross court shots, inside out forehands. Also the ample use of drop shots, half of which connected. We like to think Andy Roddick is the Power Meister but today Tursunov just outhit the American. He went for his shots and he went for them big.

Then there was a little brouhaha after the match ended with Tursunov shoving away some team member as he tried to shake Roddick’s hand at the net. Igor Andreev landed a kiss on Tursunov’s cheek that ended up going to the lips instead and that had us all worked up there. For a minute you would swear this was the hottest kiss since Tosca planted one on Scarpia. “Great Kisser” reads the logo on Tursunov’s T-shirt on the ATP website. Now we know he means business.

Meanwhile in the stands we have the ever amiable Boris Yeltsin, watching with the serene appreciation and contentment that can only come when you are no longer President. Did he get kissed too? We are uncertain. The beautiful Russian women were out in force too, as my partner likes to observe. Hopefully some of them are free and swimming in the pool of available sex partners and they don’t all belong to Safin.

Another interested spectator watched from the stands. He looks vaguely familiar too…but would anyone there have recognized Yevgeny Kafelnikov? He’s hiding under about twenty extra pounds I would guess; the hair is much darker, and he’s wearing a suit. Sigh. So much for the tall, willowy blond I used to like looking at. Another good man gone the way of all flesh we suppose. It’s a wonder they could tear him away from the poker tables, where the man reportedly spends a lot of time these days.

For Roddick, this loss, 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 3-6, 17-15, has to be a tough one. Even though he came back, you could feel the battle for him was always uphill. Perhaps it was just the clay surface that also caught the Americans at a disadvantage, but it seemed Roddick could not find that extra gear he had discovered under Connors’ guidance at the Open. His slice serve worked well when he got it out wide in the deuce court, but he barely used it. Ditto the backhand up the line shot.

For Tursunov, though, there was only one gear on Sunday, but that was enough. Big and bigger. He went for everything, especially on the forehand. Again and again Roddick tempted fate by going into the forehand; Tursunov responded by slapping yet another vicious cross court winner past him.

Said Roddick later, “To be honest, he played a lot more consistently than I thought he might. I don’t know if I could tell you what made the difference.”

At least Roddick was able to come back from two sets down; that is the great news. The not so great news is that the “old Andy” problems started creeping back in. Like the fact that mentally he still lets down at the crucial moments. When the other guy is stepping it up, Roddick seems to back away from the moment. He let Tursunov get in control of the points, and if Roddick expected a wiltdown of sorts, he was not going to get it on this day.

Another note on the coverage re OLN: for some reason the director would start with the usual shot of the tennis court, seen from behind and above, but then he would cut in for a close-up of a player as he hit a shot. The effect was jarring, you kept wanting to go back to the larger shot because the close-up was too swift to reveal much of anything. Maybe this is one director who really NEEDS to be shooting music videos, instead of tennis matches.

You can read about the final between Tursunov and Tommy Haas in Los Angeles here.

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I love my job. Two weeks ago I went to a futures tournament in Claremont, California, and spoke to a player whose grandfather was a cricket legend in India. Last week I went to a futures tournament further south in Costa Mesa and traveled from the Israeli/Lebanon border to Ghana then on to Basel and the Philippines before ending up in New Mexico. Along the way I learned a lot more about Roger Federer, Andre Agassi, Marcos Baghdatis and U.S. college tennis that I ever expected.

Dudi Sela was the top ranked player in the Costa Mesa tournament. Earlier this year he was ranked number 160 but then he broke his elbow during a training accident and dropped into the 300’s. He took the title at Claremont and is ready to climb back up the rankings.

Sela’s hometown, which he stills calls home, is Kiryat Shmona, a small town in Northern Israel two miles from the border with Lebanon. As you can imagine, it’s been the target of Hezbollah rocket attacks on many occasions. Five or six years ago Sela was hiding out with his family in their basement shelter when a rocket blew out the windows and doors of the house. Sela hasn’t lost any family members but he knew people in town who died in rocket attacks.

At one point Sela lived in Paris for a year and practiced with his best friend Marcos Baghdatis. I once asked Baghdatis why he plays so well against top ten players but I didn’t get a very good answer and now I could ask his best friend. Sela’s answer: “Because he’s bored, he wants to play the big guys.” I also asked Sela why Baghdatis is so good. Sela tapped his chest and said, “Big heart, he has a big heart and he’s talented.”

Henry Adjei-Darko is from Ghana. He’s a tall player with an aggressive game and graceful, powerful strokes. When he hits a forehand he jumps into the air and his shirt goes flying as the racket wraps around his body. And this is despite injuring his foot a few days earlier. While he gets treatment for his foot after winning his match, I check into a match with a player from the Philippines, Patrick-John Tierro. I know there aren’t many players from Ghana but what about the Philippines? Their top two players, Cecil Mamiit and Eric Taino, were both born in the U.S. and live in Los Angeles but play for the Filipino Davis Cup team.

That’s just the beginning of the U.S.-Filipino connection which has a long history. Before we get into that, though, let’s take a short twenty year trip to Switzerland. Tierro’s coach is Beeyong Sisson, a former ATP player who is a delightful and talkative fellow. I started out by asking my usual question – what kind of support does your country’s tennis association give young players? – and got the usual answer: not much. But then, to my utter surprise, Sisson mentioned that he coached in Basel, Switzerland for twenty years and I immediately switched the conversation to Roger Federer.

“Wow, ” I said, “that means you watched Roger Federer develop.” Yes he did and he even coached him at times because he was a Swiss National Coach assistant. The next obvious question was, “Okay then, why is Federer so good?” The first two reasons Sisson gave were expected. Federer’s game is well-rounded because he’s well-rounded as a person and also because he was a ball-boy for many years at the Basel indoor tournament so he got to see the best players such as Becker, Sampras and Agassi. But Sisson’s next statement was something different:

Agassi, in my opinion, if he had not gone to this academy early on, I think he would have gotten more grand slams than Pete.

Sisson is referring to the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, Andre Agassi was sent there by his father when he was fourteen years old. Sisson was making the point that players in Switzerland had an emotional connection to their community and they were allowed to develop into full human beings before they started their life on the tour. Life at tennis academies can pressure players to get immediate results and that can end up stunting their game and their emotional development.

Agassi described his life at the academy in an interview with Gary Smith for Sports Illustrated on the eve of his retirement. Agassi was a terrified and lonely teenager while he was living away from home. He turned pro partially to escape the academy atmosphere but it didn’t help. He got to number one in the world but he still wasn’t sure who he was. It took a painful tumble to a ranking of 141 and therapy to finally come to terms with his father, the same man who answered his son’s phone call telling him he’d won Wimbledon by saying, “You should have won in four.”

We don’t know what would have happened if Agassi had stayed at home, he might have gone through the same emotional turmoil, but he would have been able to work through his difficulties with his family. We also don’t know if Agassi would have won slams without going to a tennis academy, but Federer is a good example of a player who was given time to develop in a more integrated environment. As is Pete Sampras who grew up and learned to play in Southern California.

After those twenty years in Switzerland, Sisson returned to the Philippines and established a tennis center in Subic Bay which was the closing of an interesting circle. The father of Patrick-John Tierro – the young Filipino who Sisson is coaching here – was born in the U.S. and served a career in the U.S. Navy. After he retired he moved to the Philippines and lives in Olongapo City which surrounds Subic Bay. The U.S. had owned and run Subic Bay as a naval base since the end of the Spanish-American war. In 1946 the Philippines finally became an independent country and signed agreements with the U.S. to continue to maintain military bases on their soil. Three months before the last agreement was set to expire in 1991, Mount Pinatubo erupted and destroyed Clark Air Base, a U.S. Air Force base, and dumped a foot of volcanic ash onto Subic Bay.

Many Filipinos were unhappy about the U.S. presence in the Philippines and the Mt. Pinatubo eruption was a symbolic last blow. After the agreement expired, the U.S. was given three years to leave and Subic Bay is now a commercial and industrial site with resorts, shopping, and a thriving tennis center.

After talking to Sisson, I finally managed to track down Henry Adjei-Darko just as he was leaving the site. He was limping with an ice bag on his foot but was nice enough to stand and talk to me. As I suspected, Adjei-Darko did not receive much help from the Ghanaian tennis association but he did get help from the International Tennis Federation (ITF), the world governing body of tennis. The ITF gives financial help to the top ranked juniors in many different countries so they can travel to junior tournaments and improve their game. For help in the pro ranks, though, Adjei-Darko gets help from a private sponsor who lives in Orlando. It’s not uncommon, Tierro also has a sponsor who is a businessman in the Philippines.

I wanted to end this trip around the world by speaking to an American player so I tried to track down Stanford player Matt Bruch, the number 10 player in the NCAA rankings, but I couldn’t find him so I asked the man standing next to me if he knew where Matt was. Pay dirt. It turns out I was speaking to Alan Dils, the tennis coach at the University of New Mexico. I’ve been asking players about foreign students taking scholarships at U.S. universities, now I could ask a coach.

Let’s start with the current NCAA rules: 1. a player must start college by the time he or she is twenty years old. The original rule required that a player must start at a U.S. college by the time they were twenty but that’s been relaxed to include any college. 2. A player cannot play in an organized tennis event between the time they are twenty and the time they start college.

How does Dils how feel about foreign students on U.S. college teams?

Personally I think it’s great that the number seventy-five team can beat the number twenty team in the nation right now.

Not only do foreign players bring depth to the college game but without the foreign players, top teams would get the best players and, as Dils said, “the rich would get richer.” Stanford is one of those rich teams and they’re one of the last teams to give a scholarship to a foreign player. They had no choice because they no longer have their pick of the top players since there are so many good tennis programs now.

But Dils isn’t totally happy. There are a lot of loopholes to the rules. Players can enter professional events before turning twenty and they can also purchase transcripts, particularly in Eastern European countries where the bureaucracy can be hard to infiltrate. With a purchased transcript, a player can play professionally while they are supposedly going to college full time then enter a U.S. college at age twenty-two with three or four years of professional tennis experience. Dils said “I know for a fact” that this has happened.

Dils would be happier if the age limit was reduced to nineteen and the twenty and under college requirement was limited to U.S. colleges. He would also like the rules enforced as they are. Andre Begemann, a player from Germany, won the deciding match that gave Pepperdine the NCAA title this spring. Begemann broke the rules by playing a professional tournament after his twentieth birthday and before starting college but the NCAA gave him a waiver because the match was within a month of his birthday and he played only one match. Begemann will be a twenty-two year old sophomore at Pepperdine this year.

I’ve written about foreign tennis players at U.S. colleges a number of times and I’ve always championed an open door policy because U.S. tennis will only get better against the best players. But now, in agreement with Dils, I’d reinstate the original rule requiring players to enter a U.S. college by age twenty else we’ll soon have twenty-five year olds winning the NCAA title.

That ends our world tour for today. There’s another futures tournament this week in Irvine. I’m getting a bit tired of traveling so I plan to speak to U.S. players this time around.

See also:
U.S. College Tennis And The Mother Of Exiles
Benjamin Becker’s Journey To The ATP
Becker And The NCAA

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I looked at all three tournaments this week – Thailand (hard court, first prize=$76, 500), Palermo (clay, $55, 742), Mumbai (hard court, $52, 000) – and I can’t find Nikolay Davydenko’s name anywhere. What a shock! He’s not playing, are you kidding me? The guy flew halfway around the world to China to pick up a few more pennies after winning $280, 000 at the U.S. Open leaving him too tired to play for Russia against the U.S. in Davis Cup on his best surface, clay. Not that it mattered. The U.S. lost both it’s opening day matches and Dmitry Tursunov, who is rather hopeless on clay, beat Andy Roddick in the deciding match.

Bangkok

It’s Henman and Murray the in first round again. It’s the third time in the last two years these two have faced each other early and Murray has taken all three. Poor Henman, it’s enough to make a guy consider retirement.

Feliciano Lopez is 3-0 against Srichaphan but this is Thailand, Srichaphan’s home country. Also, Lopez has struggled on hard court lately except for his win over Ljubicic at the U.S. Open and Srichaphan got to the semis last week. Srichaphan it is.

Our guy Benjamin Becker gets into the regular draw after beating Agassi and getting to the fourth round at the U.S. Open. He will probably lose to Ljubicic in the second round.

Julien Benneteau has beaten Marcos Baghdatis twice this year and at big events too: Toronto Masters and Roland Garros. I expect Baghdatis to beat Benneteau because he wants to hold onto eight place in the Masters Cup race, but he’ll also meet Safin in the second round. Good reasons not to pick Baghdatis this week.

James Blake is fighting for one of those eight slots too, he’s at number nine. This is a good time to see how much fight he has but I suspect it’s Baghdatis who is the bigger fighter with the bigger heart. Still, remember what I said in the last paragraph.

Indoors I give Ivan Ljubicic the edge over Andy Murray and most other players too, but outdoors it goes to Murray.

Mumbai

This tournament started in Shanghai in 1996 and left there for Ho Chi Minh City in 2005 and now, one year later, has landed in Mumbai. Why doesn’t the ATP just drop it? Three tournaments in one week in the last week of September, who needs it? By the way, the Cricket Club of India is running the tournament. Are tennis whites required?

Mario Ancic is trying to make up for the time he lost due to injury, he should get to the final. Watch out for Rick De Voest by the way, I saw him play Roddick in Los Angeles. He lost but he handled Roddick’s serves very well. After Tommy Robredo, Dmitry Tursunov, and Tomas Berdych, there isn’t a lot of competition.

Palermo

It never ends, another clay court tournament and who is Bohdan Ulihrach? He’s won over $3, 000, 000 in his career but I’ve never heard of him. He’s thirty-one years old and 2001 was the last time he got to a final. On the other hand, he does have three titles and that’s a lot more than many tour players.

Filippo Volandri vs. Nicolas Almagro is hard to pick but Almagro has dropped off at the end of the year and Volandri has been consistently good on clay.

I have Volandri and Fernando Verdasco in the final and, of course, despite the fact that they’ve been on the tour forever and are both clay court specialists, this is only the second time they’ve met. Volandri beat Verdasco in 2003. That’s what happens when you have three tournaments a week all over the world, players never meet each other and you never get rivalries. Quick, how many rivalries are there on the tour today? Federer and Nadal and _____? Volandri has been more active on clay lately, I’ll take him.

Top picks: Murray, Blake, Ljubicic, Robredo, Ancic, Berdych, Verdasco and Volandri. A few second tier picks: Ferrero, Nieminen, Tursunov, Moya, Almagro and Mathieu.



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Pound himself is more than a watchdog, sometimes he sounds like a bulldog frothing at the mouth.

Believe it or not there is no ATP tournament this week. Yeah, finally, a week off. I have no idea why they don’t take a week off after the U.S. Open, I have no idea why they don’t take a week off after every grand slam. I suppose early round losers in the slams need something to do.

It’s vacation week for me, I don’t have to slog through pages and pages of statistics and fill out tournament draws. Speaking of which, I’m starting to work with a screen scraper program, software that is programmed to go to a websites and collect (scrape) information from the page so you don’t have to do it manually.

For instance, if I want to predict the outcome of a match between Nikolay Davydenko and Marcos Baghdatis, I would start by looking up their head-to-head record on the ATP website. If Davydenko had a 6-0 record over Baghdatis then I’d be done because I’d pick Davydenko to win. But Davydenko has a 1-0 record against Baghdatis, not conclusive at all, so next I would go tennis.matchstat.com and look up each player’s record for the last year then use that information to compare the players and pick my winner.

So far I’ve gone to three different web pages and that’s just to predict one match. If I’m picking a tournament with a thirty-two player draw, that would be a total of thirty-one matches times three web pages for a total of ninety-three web pages. If I program a screen scraper to get the data, all I have to do is enter a list of paired opponents for each round of the tournament and the screen scraper program would collect the data for me. It’s a fantasy player’s delight! When I get it working, I’ll tell you how to do it.

Meanwhile let’s look at some drugs. Drugs are an issue in most sports and that includes tennis. Guillermo Canas just won a challenger event in Brazil after returning from a fifteen month ban for using a diuretic that can used as a masking agent. In cycling, Floyd Landis will likely lose his Tour de France title after testing positive for synthetic testosterone and Lance Armstrong is feeling the heat as two of his teammates admit to using performance enhancing drugs.

That subject has been well covered but what about illegal training techniques, is there any such thing? I’m not aware of any though I suspect taping a football player to a movable object and letting other players use him as a tackling dummy might be illegal or, at the very least, worthy of a lawsuit. As brutal as that sounds, I do remember a case where a college football coach held a player while other players tackled him. Besides getting the strong message that he wasn’t very important to the team, the poor guy ended up with a bad shoulder injury.

When the World AntiDoping Agency (WADA) met last Saturday, they considered creating an illegal training technique by outlawing an object used to mimic high altitude training known as an altitude tent. WADA is the agency that controls drug testing in Olympic and some non-Olympic sports. The tent is under scrutiny by an anti-doping agency because athletes can use the tent to stimulate the production of EPO. This increases the number of oxygen-carrying red blood cells and improves speed, strength, endurance and recovery. Athletes gets the benefit of high altitude training without moving to Boulder, Colorado.

A synthetic version of EPO is the substance all those cyclists were caught with in this year’s Tour de France and it’s the same substance that Marion Jones almost got caught with, her A sample tested positive but her B sample was negative. That result warrants a revisit to one of the many attacks on Lance Armstrong.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard to believe that someone can win seven straight Tours when it seems like every other rider was using EPO, but when a French lab tests urine samples from the 1999 Tour de France in a research project and positive tests from those samples get connected to Lance Armstrong and those leaked results end up in the French newspaper L’Equipe, which just happens to be owned by the same group that runs the Tour de France, this does not qualify as valid anti-doping procedure.

The samples in that French laboratory were all B samples, the A samples no longer exist. WADA requires an A and B sample to test positive and the Marion Jones case shows the importance of that. After the L’Equipe article was written, Dick Pound, head of the WADA, called the tests “as close to 100 percent reliable as you could get” even though they were B samples.

Under Pound, WADA has turned into a very aggressive watchdog. The list of banned substances has multiplied and WADA is currently lobbying governments to ratify UNESCO’s Convention Against Doping In Sports which would make WADA’s regulations enforceable by law. If this is successful, WADA will have gone from policing Olympic sports to establishing global anti-doping laws dictated by its policies.

Pound himself is more than a watchdog, sometimes he sounds like a bulldog frothing at the mouth. He recently wrote an op-ed piece in the Ottawa Citizen – Pound is a Canadian and WADA is based in Montreal – in which he asked cyclist Floyd Landis and sprinter Justin Gatlin, who also tested positive for testosterone, to reveal their enablers, the people who provided them with drugs. He also took on the USADA and cycling with a rudeness that has pissed off many athletes and athletic organizations:

Who knows, USADA (the United States Anti-Doping Agency) may subscribe to a suggestion that both athletes (Gatlin and Landis), in separate sports, were ambushed by a roving squad of Nazi frogmen and injected against their will with the prohibited substances.

Take cycling in 2006. If 2006 were to be measured in the Chinese cycle, it would be the Year of the Excrement.

Pound is breaking the rules here, an athlete has to be proven guilty not indicted by WADA’s loudmouth president in the media. Still, his persistent criticism of cycling seems more accurate every day. And as much as I’d like to blame him, as Lance Armstrong does, for pressuring the French lab to produce the reports that linked Armstrong to the 1999 positive test samples, there is conflicting evidence. However, when it comes to outlawing altitude tents, Mr. Pound’s ego has outdone itself.

How would he enforce the ban? How will WADA distinguish between athletes who live at altitude and those who sleep in altitude tents? Why not just ban athletes who live at altitude because they have an unfair advantage? While they’re at it, WADA should ban Eli and Peyton Manning because they have unfair genetic advantage and ban LeBron James because he’s so damn talented. That’s unfair isn’t it?

I’d like to think that the world doesn’t need international anti-doping laws, I’d prefer that the individual sports organizations handled the matter, but it’s like unsolicited phone calls. Marketing companies put themselves out of business by failing to police themselves thereby spawning the National Do Not Call Registry and cycling seems to be doing the same thing. No one trusts cycling to clean itself up and this will move countries to accept global anti-doping laws administered by WADA and the huge ego of Mr. Pound.

WADA thankfully declined to outlaw the altitude tent last Saturday but it assures us that the tent is still under scrutiny. Drug testing in cycling and track and field is a mess but the thought of the egotistical and offensive Mr. Pound becoming the global anti-doping czar scares me. I’d like public pressure and investigative journalism to force cycling and track and field to clean up their act rather give the job to a man who wants to take over the world.

See also: No More Heroes – Palmeiro and Armstrong

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Imagine yourself in a doctor’s examination room with one of your teammates and his doctors; you and your wife (who is with you) think you should leave, just for privacy’s sake. But your teammate asks you to stick around anyway. After all, you’ve been teammates and buddies for a while so no secrets here. Then the doctor asks your teammate what drugs he has ingested over the years. He ticks off a list that includes some substances you know are illegal. You are more than a little surprised, but you know you heard what you heard. Your wife heard it too.

That was the situation cyclist Frankie Andreu was in some ten years ago. His teammate was Lance Armstrong. At that time he had just started his recovery from testicular cancer. This episode was publicly reported back in July of this year. Armstrong has denied that he ever said such things. His doctors support his version of events. But Andreu and his wife Betsy have maintained they heard what they heard.

The Andreus were obligated to give testimony in court, which is how this story came out initially. The case involved a promotional company who had withheld Armstrong’s bonus money because of doping allegations. Armstrong won his case and got his money, with interest.

But now there is a further story on all this in Sports Illustrated this week. Not a pretty story. In fact it will probably rock the world of professional sports and far beyond it.

We all know how endurance athletes love their spaghetti and other pasta dishes. But will this be the week when the spaghetti, so to speak, finally sticks to the ceiling? Is there something to the charge, made yet again, that Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs during his record seven consecutive Tour de France victories? This time, I am afraid there may be little wiggle room for him.

This new article has Andreu publicly fessing up to using EPO back in 1999. Now retired, Andreu spoke up in an effort to clean up a sport that may be pretty near impossible to clean up. Another teammate, requesting anonymity, reports on how a culture of EPO use pervaded the team, with Armstrong its leader. Armstrong remains adamant: he never took a thing. Ever. He wonders publicly why his former friends and teammates are out to get him. I just don’t get ait, says he. Neither Andreu nor the anonymous teammate indicted Armstrong. But he was part of the team. Was he really above the fray?

Were they really out to get him? Or is the truth now getting too close to home? Former champion Greg LeMond made similar allegations against Armstrong last year. On The Charlie Rose Show, Armstrong complained that LeMond was “for some reason trying to destroy my reputation.” Why, he did not know.

Well, let’s ask the question, why would these two guys, Andreu and LeMond, want to nail Armstrong? These are two of the Good Guys in cycling, Andreu a man willing to lay his all down to help his leader, Lance Armstrong. And LeMond, who competed at a time when being an American was not a fun thing. He had to eat a lot of shit for that. He developed character up his wazoo. A straight shooter if ever there was one.

So all of these things started to add up and take their toll on me, and people like me who follow cycling, or just popular culture. Lance is a myth from the land of the gods. I used to think LeMond was annoyed that he had it rough while Armstrong had it easy. He had helped greased the wheels to that ease. Hell, maybe LeMond was just jealous, I thought.

Now I think LeMond has pretty powerful convictions for speaking out the way he did. I heard the remarks in his on-camera response to a reporter’s question and the strong annoyance he showed felt very real. Why did Armstrong persist in this fantasy of being clean? That’s what LeMond was wondering. I felt quite shocked, I remember. I hid my head and hoped it would fade away. Slowly, it did.

What do they gain from it? The answer is not much of anything. There’s no reward for bringing down the world’s top cyclist, retired or not. If anything, you will probably end up getting spat on publicly. Because of that I am inclined to believe them. Armstrong, on the other hand, has everything in the world to gain by maintaining the fantasy, so carefully built up and protected, that he is clean. How about that? He must be the only clean guy in a sport rife with dirty ones.

Armstrong is a major public figure. His influence goes well beyond sporting realms and has touched cancer survivors everywhere. Does he not have a great deal to lose if his feet are proven to be of clay? He’s no longer a cottage industry at this point; the guy is practically a major conglomerate. People love him. Yellow bands adorn the wrists of a large swathe of Americans. Armstrong could run for president some day. And probably win handily. He’s that kind of guy.

But if Lance instead turns out to be an Enron of the sporting world, just imagine the dominoes that will fall and the expectations of people all over the world that will be crushed if these charges prove true. Unfortunately, after a lot of wondering myself over the last few years, I have a creepy feeling they probably are true. Before this week, I kept steeling myself as new charges of doping crept out about Armstrong. But I wanted to keep the faith. Last year, I even wrote here about the incredible physiology that got Lance up those 2.5 grades in the Pyrenees and the Alps for seven years straight. Now, I am starting to think the game is up.

Sigh and woe is at hand. Meanwhile, who gets caught? Not Armstrong, but the man after him who would be king, Floyd Landis. Poor Floyd. He had some big shoes to fill. With a name that sounded positively homely alongside the steel and flint persona of a name like Armstrong’s. We probably won’t be hearing much about Floyd ever again. But Armstrong we will. He will have people rallying to his defense. Too much is at stake here.

According to a related story last week in the New York Times, nearly a dozen people sought for interviews declined to talk about the Andreus, saying “they feared for their jobs because of Armstrong’s influence in the sport.”

How does Armstrong address the testimony of the Andreus? “She hates me, ” says Lance in the Times article. And Frankie is just “backing up his old lady.”

The irony is, according to the SI article, that Armstrong’s testicular cancer may in fact have been induced by his steroid use. That would certainly be an odd pickle if these charges prove true. It should give young men pause in case they are eager to replicate the actions of those who do use illegal drugs.

I watched Armstrong every year with a fervor bordering on religiosity. He was more than my hero. He was my savior too. I followed his exploits from my hospital bed after I blew out my aorta with a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm. I never knew if I could climb back on my bike again and ride the 200 miles a week I rode when I competed. But if Armstrong could do it, I could too; I felt totally inspired by him.

Now I am wondering, will I feel stepped on? Like those other blondes before me, Kristin his former wife, and Sheryl Crow, who recently discovered herself that, while Lance could go through his own battle with cancer, he could not be there for her when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Geez, doesn’t exactly sound like something a Good Guy would do, now does it? There’s something fishy about this guy.

Part of me feels like weeping again. This guy is gonna make me cry my heart out before we’re through with each other. I am so sorry.

Another horrible thing if this happens: the French may get the last laugh after all. The press and establishment in France have been howling for Armstrong’s blood for eons.

I don’t know about you guys, but tonight I am getting drunk and howling at the moon.

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An odd thing just occurred on the TV: they ran the Lance Armstrong commercial, the black and white one of him climbing in the fog, man alone at the top, leader of cancer survivors everywhere …see what I mean? Can we suppose it was sheer serendipity that this ad ran when it did? Pull my other leg, please. The myth goes on.

See also: It’s Not About The Bike, It’s All About The Suffering

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