Armstrong walks away ‘the winner of seven Tours, not the guy who cheated’

AS A cyclist, he was ferocious. Only such a competitor could claim the yellow jersey of the Tour de France seven times. Now, in closing stages of court action in which he stands accused of being a drug cheat, Lance Armstrong has waved the white flag.
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Not yet a proven cheat, Armstrong is now a man who has given up the fight to prove his innocence. Instead of entering an arbitration process in which he would face former teammates who have turned against him, the 40-year-old must now live with the clouds above him turning darker by the day.

”There comes a point in every man’s life when he has to say, ‘Enough is enough’,” said Armstrong yesterday in a statement he posted on his website.

The consequences are so grave as to cast his decision in the sharpest possible relief, with his chief tormenter, the US Anti-Doping Agency, stating it would strip him of the seven Tour titles.

Rather than being ”finished with this nonsense”, Armstrong’s abdication of his legal rights will ensure the furore over the integrity of his incredible seven straight Tour victories continues forever. Only one thing would ever stop it: Armstrong admitting he cheated. And then lied and lied and lied about it.

This is the moral and legal conundrum that appears to have prompted his reversal. ”Today I turn the page. I will no longer address this issue, regardless of the circumstances,” he wrote.

Yet, as determined as he is to dedicate his life to his five children, to fighting cancer and to being the fittest 40-year-old on the planet, Armstrong must surely know the sporting world will not let him.

The director of Sportslawyer, Paul Horvath, was ”gobsmacked” by the news. ”My world is rocked today that Lance Armstrong is copping this one on the chin. This is a very significant development in cycling, international sport and doping,” he said.

Armstrong’s decision doesn’t amount to a conviction, despite the consequences, noted Mr Horvath, yet the public could say it had ”an appearance of not being consistent with innocence” – as does the sport of cycling. If it wasn’t Armstrong, then who did win the 2004 Tour, in which every one of the first six finishers is either an accused, confessed or convicted drug cheat? Cadel Evans, who was seventh, may find himself an unlikely winner. Perhaps the sport will try to pretend the race didn’t happen.

The Australian cycling legend Phil Anderson is adamant Armstrong’s decision won’t affect his legacy. ”He’s one of the greats and will be remembered always as the winner of the seven Tours … not the guy who cheated,” he said.

Despite those prepared to testify against him, Anderson hangs on to the fact ”he’s never been caught scientifically or through the anti-doping process”.

But nothing was going to stop the US Anti-Doping Agency. ”They were just going to continue until the end; until they hear what they want to hear, they’re not going to give up,” Anderson said.

The political strategist and cycling fan Mark Textor says opinion of Armstrong will remain polarised. He raced in an era of incredible performances, said Mr Textor: ”But perhaps that’s because they were not believable.

”The fact that he’s quit on this, with the overwhelming evidence against him, will lose him a lot of fans,” he said.

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Fighter finally gives up – but is it pragmatism or exhaustion?

FINALLY, Lance Armstrong has stopped saying it ain’t so. There is, as yet, no admission of guilt. Probably never will be. Maybe there is not one to give.
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Surely it speaks volumes that the highly defiant and serially litigious Armstrong will not challenge a federal judge’s decision that the US Anti-Doping Agency had the authority to hold a hearing into the allegations that he used performance-enhancing drugs.

”Enough is enough,” is how Armstrong defended his decision not to defend himself any more – thus forfeiting his seven Tour de France titles, and submitting to a life ban from his sport.

And, certainly, it is not beyond possibility that even a man as indefatigable as Armstrong could simply be exhausted by the legal process. Tired of having to defend himself, and his amazing record, against accusations that began with whispers that his deeds – in an age of drug cheats – simply defied belief. Against reports of tampered samples, generous donations that might have caused officials to turn a blind eye and, most damagingly, the mounting testimony of fellow riders and team officials.

Armstrong cast himself as a victim in the USADA’s star chamber. An innocent man unable to defend himself against the vast bureaucracy of the anti-drug crusaders. A mere struggler at the back of the legal peloton. An ”unconstitutional witch-hunt”, he called it.

”The toll that this has taken on my family, and my work for our foundation and on me, leads me to where I am today,” he said in a statement. ”Finished with this nonsense.”

Armstrong’s link between the drug accusations and the work of his foundation is telling. His accusers might say cunning.

Throughout the long, sad investigation of Armstrong’s legitimacy, it has been impossible for many to separate the rider from the charitable institution. This has in turn created a dilemma. If Armstrong is a cheat, then is the almost $US500 million ($479 million) he has raised for cancer research and treatment with those grammatically annoying yellow ”Livestrong” wrist bands somehow tainted? Or, given he might have been just one of dozens of cheating cyclists who rode the Tour, did the ends justify the means?

For many who idolised both the rider and benefactor, the easiest thing was to ignore the white noise of scandal. To accept the word of Armstrong, who defiantly tweeted last year when yet another investigation began: ”500 drug controls world-wide, never failed a test. I rest my case.”

In the absence of that tainted sample, or a confession, many will no doubt continue to plead his case. Some because they genuinely believe he deserves to be taken on his word given the evidence, or lack thereof. Others because they would never hear a word against St Lance, and wish to remain in their self-deluding cocoons.

However, patently, the ”no positive test” defence has weakened considerably in recent years. Once, the image of drug cheats was the ugly caricatures of bulging sprinters and bearded female shot-putters from behind the Iron Curtain whose samples turned test tubes purple. The BALCO case, particularly, demonstrated how nimbly the dopers now avoid detection.

Marion Jones? No positive samples. Just a confession and a jail term.

Armstrong has also found it increasingly difficult to destroy the credibility of his accusers. Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton were easily vilified because they cheated themselves. Yet it has become apparent in a sport where, at least for a time, doping was endemic, the old maxim about taking a thief to catch a thief rings true.

At the London Olympics, I spoke with a once staunch Armstrong defender who had just returned from the Tour de France. He talked sadly of the mounting body of evidence against the great rider. Of how, across the sport, it had become increasingly difficult to believe everyone was lying, except Lance.

For millions of good reasons, Armstrong will always be a superhero. Yet, now, he is without his yellow cape.

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This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Toughness – it’s in the Bloods

IF YOU wanted a midfield to play for your life, you would be very happy to have this Sydney group represent you.
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Every time I watch them play, it is their unrelenting and uncompromising approach to the game that has me walking away, shaking my head.

I do the same thing when I watch Joel Selwood attack the footy. Or Lenny Hayes, Jobe Watson, Trent Cotchin, Daniel Kerr, Patrick Dangerfield, Rory Sloane, Andrew Swallow, Callan Ward or Matthew Boyd. Individually, these players are the game’s true warriors. They possess a ”competitive gene” that is overdeveloped and distinctly uncommon. It allows them to overcome fear and approach every contest with a wholeheartedness that wins them the ultimate respect among peers and fans alike.

If the club you support is lucky, you will have one such player you can go along and watch each week, content in the knowledge that, regardless of the result of the game, that particular player will emerge unbowed and provide the template, hopefully, for others in the side to attempt to follow.

I say attempt because they set a benchmark few can reach. But if it can inspire the rest of the group to discover the ”will” to elevate their own effort, improvement is assured.

It is rare, however, to bear witness to a side that has so many of this treasured sort of player running around in the midfield at the same time. Kieren Jack, Josh Kennedy, Jude Bolton, Jarrad McVeigh, Luke Parker, Daniel Hannebery and Ryan O’Keefe all qualify, in my eyes, as ultimate competitors.

People often wonder what it is about the Swans that enables them to take ordinary players from other clubs and transform them into very good, consistent footballers. I would suggest that you look no further than what takes place in the middle of the ground each week.

It would appear that this midfield group inspires, challenges and even dares each other to ”outgrunt” one another when the heat of a football game is at its fiercest.

The ferocity of the attack on the football from each of these players simply seems to fuel the competitiveness in them all. They appear to want to scramble over the top of each other for the privilege of putting their head on the line and wearing one for the team.

There appears to be a frenzy when it comes to contested football. Like a pack of wild lions descending on a carcass, every one of them is maniacally desperate to get their share of what’s on offer. That they are the No. 1 contested possession side in the competition should surprise no one.

The amount of times Bolton, Jack, McVeigh, Parker or O’Keefe have left the field sporting a head bandage or stitches, or spent time on the bench under the blood rule is testament to their attitude. You get the feeling that they would not be satisfied with their efforts if at least one of them didn’t have such an experience. And if, as in the case of Parker earlier this year, the damage is a little more serious than that, then that’s a consequence that they are happy to wear as well. It may even be a sign that you have truly earned your ”colours”, the colour of the Bloods, best championed by one of the great warriors of recent times, former Swan skipper, Brett Kirk.

The other thing about this group I find fascinating is where they have come from. Only Bolton and McVeigh emerged from the absolute elite of the draft pool, with Bolton pick eight in 1998 and McVeigh pick five in 2002.

The rest were all on offer for every other club in the competition. Kennedy, of course, started with the Hawks but was traded to the Swans for pick 39.

O’Keefe slid through to the fourth round of 1999 (pick 56), Hannebery (30) and Parker (40) were second-round picks, and Jack was an inspired rookie-list selection who was elevated to the senior list in 2007.

Complementing this group are two ruckmen who share a similar mentality. Shane Mumford’s ability and willingness to follow up his ruck work with a desperation not always seen in the big men, is inspiring. He arrived at the club via Geelong, which cost the Swans pick 28 in 2009. And Mike Pyke has joined in on the act. The former Canadian rugby player came off the rookie list in 2010 and continues to improve at a rate of knots that astounds. Their opponents this afternoon are no slouches in this area. Jordan Lewis, Brad Sewell and Luke Hodge all sit comfortably under this banner.

The pedigree of the Hawks’ midfield group looks a little different to that of the Swans, however, when we look at where they originated from. Hodge, Lewis, Cyril Rioli, Isaac Smith and Xavier Ellis were all first-round draft picks, Shaun Burgoyne cost two first-round choices, Jarryd Roughead, who has spent plenty of time in the ruck was a pick two, and Max Bailey, who they remain hopeful of getting back for some football this year, was taken in the first round in 2005.

Further examination of the midfields would have it that the Hawks are not as ”inside” as the Swans. Of course, at one stage earlier in the year, the criticism of the Hawks was that they were too one-paced and had too many similar types in at the centre square. As the year has rolled on, they have been able to introduce Liam Shiels into the centre square set-up, got an increased output from renowned gut runners Smith and Clinton Young, gave Bradley Hill his debut and last week recalled Chance Bateman.

The Hawks are much more satisfied with the ”mix” they are able to produce each week.

It will be put to the ultimate test today. The Swans’ No. 1 outside runner, Lewis Jetta, has had a marvellous season but he is beginning to feel the weight of opposition attention and you would imagine that Al Clarkson is not about to let him off the hook.

So, in a battle of the midfields, who will prevail today? The Swans’ ferocious inside competitors, who sacrifice body as a matter of course, or the highly credentialled Hawks who have prioritised outside run to complement their contested ball animals?

The fact that the biggest games of the year are played at the MCG is something to consider in the coming weeks. It has been a barren destination for the boys from Sydney for some time.

But for now, on the tighter confines of the SCG, I’m leaning towards the Swannies. With more room to spread and run on the MCG, I would go the other way. Either way, expect bandages and blood at some stage today.

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Swans, Saints set for NZ

SYDNEY has emerged at the top of Wellington City Council’s wish-list to play St Kilda next season in what would be the AFL’s first match for premiership points outside Australia.
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AFL chief operating officer Gillon McLachlan yesterday said a deal to stage the Anzac Day clash at Westpac Stadium had yet to be clinched, but Wellington City Council sports and events portfolio leader John Morrison told The Saturday Age he expected the fine print, such as advertising and beer rights, to be settled within three weeks.

Morrison also revealed his preference was for the Swans to take on the Saints. The Brisbane Lions had also been considered. ”It’s up to the AFL, of course, but we certainly believe the Sydney Swans are the hot favourites,” Morrison said. ”From our point of view, we would certainly like it because Sydney has good access to Wellington. From our bigger picture point of view, we hope we can get as many Australians as possible from St Kilda and the Sydney Swans and the AFL, and there are also many Australians that are in New Zealand, not just Wellington. We are aiming for a full house.”

The AFL had hoped to finalise an agreement with Wellington City Council by late July. ”It’s more likely than not, but the deal is not done,” McLachlan said. ”St Kilda are working with all the relevant parties over there. We are very supportive of it.”

In a letter to club members this week, Saints chief executive Michael Nettlefold, understood to have held talks with the Swans, said he hoped to formally announce details ”in the near future”.

Morrison said the Saints could play as many as three matches in Wellington in 2014. The match would be broadcast after the traditional clash between Collingwood and Essendon at the MCG. The AFL would be hopeful of attracting a capacity crowd of 35,000, having yesterday revealed attendances this season had slipped three per cent up to round 20, compared to the same time last season.

The analysis showed while attendances had fallen in Victoria, a rise had been recorded in New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia. ”This was always expected for us. I guess what we have to do now is [think] to what extent should we be recalibrating,” McLachlan said.

Comparing 2010, the final year of the 16-team competition, to now, the AFL identified four trends that had an impact on crowd figures.

There were fewer traditional fixtures, that is matches involving the 16 clubs before expansion, while average attendance had been ”on track” this season until Port Adelaide’s recent decline. The birth of Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney had also affected the situation. The redevelopment of Simonds Stadium in Geelong and the SCG, reducing capacity, was another factor, while Brisbane had recorded a drop of 32 per cent in attendance from 2010 to 2011. But the Lions had worked to stabilise that figure. ”We have to define success under a new paradigm. We have two smaller teams going in,” McLachlan said.

”If we take all the Gold Coast and GWS games out, our average crowds are the same. Therefore, the strength of the existing 16 clubs is the same.”

McLachlan said there was a ”positive correlation” between live television broadcasts, the number of which has increased under the new broadcast rights deal, and attendance, and pointed to the marquee timeslot of Friday night. He said the average television audience on Channel Seven and Fox Sports on this night was up 43 per cent, while attendance had grown 16 per cent.

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