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On January 17, 2013, Lance Armstrong admitted to using performance enhancing drugs on national television in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. The consequences of his openness caused public outrage as the media incorrectly labeled him as a cheater and vilified him for his martyrdom to willingly destroy his legacy as the best cyclist to ever live and strip himself from every single cycling win since August of 1988, all for the sake of honesty. Every media outlet is having a ball in their unfair portrayal of Mr. Armstrong as a man who did not deserve to win because he used illegal substances. So my question, aimed at anyone wasting their time reading this, is two-fold: Why is he being labeled a cheater for juicing, and more importantly, why is anyone even surprised?
The fact of the matter is that performance enhancing drugs such as testosterone, anabolic steroids, and human growth hormone are used by every single athlete who competes at an elite level. There is not an individual who holds a world record in any athletic endeavor who has not taken extreme amounts of steroids to make that possible. In the sport of cycling, the frequency, intensity, and volume of training that is required to compete at an elite level is impossible to recover from without chemical assistance. Lance essentially trained his balls off (or rather, ball) on his bike for 6 hours a day, each day, for decades in order to achieve the level of fitness required to win 7 consecutive Tour de France gold medals.
In the highest echelon of athletic competition, there are 3 requirements to be a champion: having the best genetics, complete and utter dedication to training, and most importantly… taking performance enhancing drugs. Most people severely underestimate the power of anabolic steroids. Even the most gifted natural athlete would not even be in the same ballpark of achievement as an average athlete with chemical assistance. I will use a personal anecdote to describe the seemingly magical effect that anabolic steroids have on the human body in order to paint an accurate picture of what is going on here.
I am a natural bodybuilder. Not to toot my own horn, but I consider myself to have above-average genetics for building muscle. Possibly even great genetics. I was introduced to lifting weights when I was 17 years old, around the time I graduated from high school. I quickly noticed that I was able to get stronger while having almost no idea what I was doing. I had poor exercise selection, I wasn’t consistent, I didn’t eat enough, and I partied a bit too hard. I had no one to guide me and thus had to learn everything that I know now about weight lifting by my own, through experience and research. Despite the aforementioned, I was still able to make noticeable gains. Nothing too major, but noticeable enough that people commented about it.
Now that I am 20 and have studied sports science down to a… well, a science, I am making the best gains of my life. To be specific, I have put on roughly 30 pounds of muscle since I started lifting 3 years ago, with 15 of those pounds being from the last 6 months. A natural male bodybuilder with above-average genetics can expect to roughly gain 2 pounds of muscle a month if he does everything right. Remember that estimate as I will now compare that to my friend who did just one cycle of steroids. As opposed to Lance, who took a bi cycle of steroids.
Anyway, my friend, who shall remain nameless, decided that he was going to juice for 6 weeks in the summer of 2011. And he was going to juice hard. Specifically, he was going to use the most powerful oral steroid known to man: Anadrol.
Before his cycle, he stood rail thin at 150 pounds and 6’3. For just 6 weeks, he took 150 milligrams of Anadrol per day, along with a 500 milligram weekly testosterone injection. For those who are not in the know, that means his testosterone levels were elevated to 10 times the natural amount, which is around 50 milligrams per week for a healthy 19 year old male. What were the results?
I have no reason to be politically correct here. Quite frankly, he blew the fuck up. In just 6 weeks, he put on 50 pounds of muscle… Let me repeat that for dramatic effect. 50 pounds of muscle in 42 days. He literally grew more than a a pound of muscle each night. He was able to make more than a lifetime of muscle gains in 6 weeks. No disrespect to him, but that number could have been close to 70 if he bothered to train his legs. His bench press increased from a measly 135 to a manly 300+ in slightly over a month. That, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly how powerful performance enhancing drugs are.
At the top level, everyone uses steroids. There is no unfair advantage to using because everyone uses. It is a given. Steroids, along with any other performance enhancing drugs, simply raise the level of competition. Surely, one cannot expect to be a champion just by using. Champions still pour their blood, sweat, and tears into their training, steroids or not. There is no getting around the fact that these athletes still have to work hard. Given the fact that steroids allow athletes the option of training harder and longer, the argument can be made that performance enhancing drugs force athletes to put even more effort and time into their training than if they were natural. So to call Lance Armstrong a “cheater” is diametrically opposed to the reality that he is anything but a cheater. He is a champion, and, in my eyes, even more so because he had the ball to admit the truth. Err… meant the gall.
So this begs the question: Why are people even surprised? To keep the answer as simple as possible, it is because most people are stupid and are out of touch with reality. Coming from a nut like me, that’s really saying something.
I have learned from personal experience that honesty isn’t always the best policy. That being said, Lance shouldn’t have admitted his drug use. I personally have no idea why he would do such a thing. Perhaps the years of taking steroids finally gave him the strength to admit the truth. Now he has to face a huge public backlash and millions of dollars lost to sponsorships.
Looks like he really dropped the ball with this one.