By Ann Liguori
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Having just returned from Greece and a tour of the incredible ruins of Olympia, the site that hosted the Olympic Games from 776 BC to 393 AD — 1,169 years during which 293 Olympiads were held — one of the many things I learned was the way the ancient Greeks punished athletes who cheated.
In addition to monetary penalties, cheaters had to dedicate statues to Zeus. Their names and names of their Fathers and hometowns were transcribed on these statues, which lined the entrance to the stadium for all to see. It was a punishment worse than death, as these individuals, their families and hometowns were humiliated, their names and families disgraced for all of history.
Athletes back then were given every chance to learn and understand the rules of the Games. Those who competed had to reside in Elis for one month prior to the Games, where they learned the rules and virtues of the Games and the principles of fair pla. They were schooled on what they could and could not do. And as far as we know, performance enhancing drugs were not yet part of their culture.
During those 1,169 years, our guide told us that historians learned there were only 16 who were caught cheating in all — 16 statues shaming athletes who came up with ways to break the rules or bribe opponents.
If only the cheaters of today would feel this same sort of humiliation — perhaps we’d have less of them in sports.
This brings me to the Lance Armstrong story. Though he denies it, for years I felt that Armstrong did indeed cheat. Where there is smoke, there is usually fire, and there have been murmurings about Armstrong from former teammates and those in the sport, talking about his alleged use of performance enhancing drugs for years. Many who cover cycling know about the blood doping culture that exists in that world. I’m amazed that it took so long for these reports to come out.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which stripped Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles, stated that Armstrong led “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.” Former teammates, including Tyler Hamilton, over ten cyclists and Armstrong’s former masseuse, Emma O’Reilly, are among those who testified about Armstrong’s alleged drug use. O’Reilly says she used to run errands for Armstrong to pick up EPO and used concealer to cover up syringe marks. When O’Reilly started talking she said that Armstrong bullied her for years with lawsuits and called her a “prostitute.” In her affidavit, O’Reilly said that Armstrong acknowledged to her: “Now Emma, you know enough to bring me down.”
I can’t imagine what goes through the mind of someone who goes through such lengths to cheat and cover it up. If USADA’s report is accurate, perhaps Armstrong felt many in the sport were doing it and that he and his team could not compete without using performance enhancing drugs. Is that the sick reality of the sport?
Millions followed his career and were in awe of his accomplishments. Now they have to decide whether it was all a huge farce, yet another example of a supposed hero deceiving everyone. The fact that he also battled and overcame cancer helped him gain more supporters. And did he use the Lance Armstrong Foundation as a shield?
What does the sport do now? And how do all sports prevent cheaters in the future? Should we learn from the ancient Greeks and erect monuments with the cheater’s name on it, placing them in a highly trafficked area called Cheater’s Square? Would cheaters then suffer the same humiliation that those in ancient Greece experienced?
Or do we not care anymore?
Don’t you just want our high-profile athletes to be honorable and right again?
Where do you stand on Armstrong? Let Ann know in the comments below…