By STEVE CHOICE
Lance Armstrong never got caught with a smoking gun. The United States Anti-Doping Agency still decided there was enough smoke to presume a fire, though.
By banning the seven-time Tour de France champion from competition and coaching for life, USADA seemingly torched Armstrong’s reputation and legacy.
But Armstrong’s case is far from open and shut.
The case against him constitutes more a preponderance of the evidence than proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
It’s not like we haven’t seen this movie before in American sports, including very recently. We’ve grown accustomed to our once-unimpeachable heroes falling from grace.
Very few reasonable people outside of Pennsylvania believe Joe Paterno didn’t help conspire to harbor a serial pedophile in his midst. Everyone basically accepts that Tiger Woods is not the wonderful family man he presented himself to be.
And you’d probably be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t think O.J. Simpson saw dead people long before the kid in “The Sixth Sense.”
What we haven’t dealt with is the doubt and complexity that accompany Armstrong’s case.
One of the most damning pieces of circumstantial evidence against him is his domination of a sport which has been rife with dopers for years. Many say the man who so consistently outpaced those tainted fields must also have been dirty.
Add to that the 10 former Armstrong teammates USADA says it has ready to testify against him. Included among them are admitted dopers Tyler Hamilton and 2006 Tour de France winner Floyd Landis, who was stripped of his title after being caught cheating.
Former personal and team assistants have also accused him of having steroids in an apartment in Spain and disposing of syringes they say were used for injections.
All that’d be needed to deal the coup de grace to Armstrong would be something concrete. This is where the impartial hand of science could step in and tip the scales of justice irrefutably toward the side of guilt.
For certainty’s sake, that’d be very helpful. Then we’d know for sure that an innocent man’s life wasn’t being irrevocably tarnished.
But that’s where this story veers off course. The inconvenient truth is that Armstrong has never failed a drug test. And it’s not because various agencies haven’t tried to catch him riding dirty.
Armstrong’s probably had more blood drawn than a broke college sophomore who spent his summer savings by November.
Armstrong denounced the case against him, calling it flimsy and lacking in evidence.
“Regardless of what (USADA chief executive) Travis Tygart says, there is zero physical evidence to support his outlandish and heinous claims,” Armstrong said. “The only physical evidence here is the hundreds of controls I have passed with flying colors.”
The “CSI” moment is yet to arrive in this case. There’s a lot of smoke, but where’s the fire?