It's over, they say. It's not.
Earlier this week, we reported on the end of Lance Armstrong's attempt to halt the arbitration process of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) through a lawsuit in federal court in Austin, Texas.
Judge Sam Sparks' thirty-page order denied Armstrong the equitable relief that he sought and gave USADA a green light to punish Armstrong after finding against him in the arbitration process or to punish Armstrong for not participating in the arbitration process. Articulating his decision within the confines of the law yet punctuating his opinion with commentary on the posture of the case, Sparks said in a footnote:
“USADA's conduct raises serious questions about whether its real interest in charging Armstrong is to combat doping, or if it is acting according to less noble motives.”
As between punishment through arbitration or punishment for refusing arbitration, the world now knows which Armstrong chose.
So, what happens now?
Since Thursday night headlines have blared that Lance would lose his awards for cycling, most notably his seven Tour de France victories. The USADA moved quickly on Friday stripping Armstrong of, among other awards, his seven Tour de France titles, and banning him for life from cycling. That would seem to be the end of the matter.
It could be far from over.
Since Thursday night, debate has arisen whether the USADA actually has jurisdiction to strip Armstrong of his medals, or whether only the International Cycling Union (UCI) actually had the authority to take such drastic action, an argument Armstrong had already made in the federal lawsuit dismissed earlier this week.
No one has conclusively answered that question, and currently, the UCI is not talking, except to ask the USADA for the evidence it intended to use against Armstrong in the arbitration proceeding.
For now, however, Armstrong has either taken a principled position or made a brilliant tactical move. He may have done both. Remember, that for all the talk of Armstrong's endurance, grit, and athleticism, he won the Tour with more than just those attributes. Perhaps more than any athlete in recent memory, in his sport, Armstrong proved his dominance as a master strategist and tactician, most visibly in the Tour where he would use many of the stages merely to remain in contention until he could reach the mountain stages and simply obliterate any pretenders.
Eschewing the arbitration process, he avoided the disclosure of potentially devastating evidence. He relegated speculation about his doping to forever remain just that – mere speculation. He deprived the USADA of ever making a conclusive and binding factual or legal determination about his doping. He retained his consistently held righteous indignation and left the USADA with the burden of defending itself from charges that it was defending the law but neglecting justice, planted firmly on the wrong side of history.
He has also put the Tour de France and its organizers in an uncomfortable position, as this New York Times graphic points out. With the number of Tour contenders from Armstrong's racing years implicated by doping, to whom do the Tour's organizers actually award those surrendered titles who has not already been disqualified or hopelessly tainted?
Further, by accepting the process's harsh punishment for doping while avoiding that process, he has placed himself above the fray and above the process, fundamentally changing the debate, and arguably discrediting that process. He has now taken the position that this fight is no longer about the medals of one man, but rather about that one man's ability to continue advocating for cancer research and treatment. Thus, he burnishes his humanity and shows that even he, a man whose entire life is built on achievement in sport, recognizes that things other than sport take precedence.
And yet all of that analysis presupposes that the legal battle has, in fact, concluded. Pursuant to Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure , Armstrong still has 30 days from this week's order to appeal the decision. Which he may still do. Remember, this battle has been going on since 1999 with Armstrong's first Tour victory. See you in September.
In the meantime, what is Armstrong doing today?
Lance has ceased to fight. Lance fights still.