What a shame it is to read that Floyd Landis tested positive for synthetic testosterone and has been fired by his cycling team. The Tour de France disavowed his recent championship, although he must be stripped of his title by the International Cycling Union. What a shame. Shame on Landis for–apparently–cheating. After two positive tests and being fired by his team, it definitely does appear that Landis cheated in the Alps to take home the yellow jersey. The final verdict will come when the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and the Court of Arbitration for Sport decide his fate. For now, it’s not looking good for Mr. Landis. I am disappointed to hear that he probably used artificial substances to win the Tour, not only because he is an American who will probably lose the Tour title, but also because his action has sullied the reputation of the Tour as well as the noble sport of cycling.
Sometimes cheaters do prosper, but occasionally their cheating gets the best of them, and they experience breathtaking falls from grace. Landis’ situation reminds me of what happened to Dr. Hwang Woo-suk, formerly one of Korea’s top scientists, who was found last year to have falsified the results of a cloning experiment used as the basis of an article published last year in Science Magazine. Dr. Hwang was stripped of virtually every award he ever won and has retreated to the private sector. Landis is hardly alone in the annals of athletes who have cheated to gain a performance edge. From Tonya Harding (figure skating) and Jason Grimsley (baseball) to Ben Johnson (track and field) and Arnold Schwarzeneggar (bodybuilding), athletes in nearly every sport have used and abused substances to give them the advantage that will help them win. Of course, cheating in sports is not limited to chemical substances–it can also include sabotaging your opponents, illicit gambling, or using technology to gain an unfair advantage. Cheating isn’t limited to athletes–it can also include referees, managers, fans, owners, even members of sports governing organizations.
Landis’ situation is especially disheartening because his performance affected the outcome of a major sporting event, the Tour de France. Landis is hardly alone–two riders who were serious contenders to win the Tour this year, Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich, were disqualified from the Tour over alleged substance abuse. Other riders have likely used performance-enhancing substances but have not been caught. Landis had the fortune–and misfortune–of being in the spotlight. He is not the first to cheat and win or lose a major sporting event and get caught–that distinction could go to the 1919 Chicago Black Sox (baseball). He won’t be the last. But for now, the spotlight is on him.