Allowing Lance Armstrong to Compete: What Races Gain and Lose

By:  Kaitlyn Kacsuta, Ruling Sports Intern (Twitter:  @KRKacsuta)

As most people are well aware by now, Lance Armstrong received a lifetime ban from cycling and other sporting events governed by the World Anti-Doping Code.  On October 10, 2012, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) released a report that outlined the evidence against Armstrong and the “reasoned decision” to impose the ban.

Despite the sanctions, Armstrong continues to participate and compete in races, runs and triathlons.  Most recently, he competed in Maryland in the Half Full Triathlon, and won the event.  The event organizers chose to forfeit their certification with the sport’s governing body, USA Triathlon, in order to allow Armstrong to race.  USA Triathlon adheres to the World Anti-Doping Code and is subject to the USADA.  The ban imposed on Armstrong prohibits him from participating in USA Triathlon sanctioned events.

It is important to note that the Half Full Triathlon is a race series that raises money for the Ulman Cancer Fund, an organization created by Livestrong’s CEO, Doug Ulman.  The charitable nature of the event and Armstrong’s work in the fight against cancer, make the race director’s decision to drop certification far more reasonable – and possibly unique to this type of racing event.

By contrast, the Chicago Marathon prevented Armstrong from participating, though he was registered to race with his charity, because USA Track and Field (USATF) and the World Anti-Doping Code govern the event.  A USATF spokesman said that, “[t]he code is very clear regarding the ineligibility of sanctioned athletes,” and that, “Mr. Armstrong’s ban extends to track and field, road running, and all [USATF] disciplines.”

Similarly the Ironman World Championships, held annually in Kona prevented Armstrong from entering its race even before the USADA sanctions were imposed.  Ironman, who had partnered with Armstrong in February 2012 after he announced his plans to attempt to qualify for and compete in the Ironman World Championships, banned Armstrong from competing in its events when the formal charges were announced by USADA.

Armstrong has received mixed receptions since USADA sanctions were announced.  It is unclear if events and organizers that were once willing to drop certification will continue to make exceptions for Armstrong in the wake of USADA’s release of its “reasoned decision.”  There will continue to be those who push Armstrong away from events, in part because of the race benefits from maintaining certification with governing bodies – such as lower cost insurance for the event and professional competitors vying for higher placement in international rankings who are attracted to competing in certified races. 

However, there will also be those who welcome Armstrong with open arms because he brings press coverage, increased participation and ultimately more money to every event he attends.  The Half Full Triathlon had hundreds of additional athletes sign up after it was announced that Armstrong would race.  No matter the ultimate fallout from the USADA report, Armstrong will always be the moneymaking machine that led so many to ride along in his slipstream with U.S. Postal Service.

A possible solution may be for Armstrong to begin a career in the niche, yet growing sport of ultramarathon running.  Many of the most storied ultra events in the United States are not USATF certified events, though the International Skyrunning Federation (largely a European mountain running organization) is subject to the World Anti-Doping Code.  Theoretically, if Armstrong were able to qualify for an event like the Western States 100, considered the most prestigious ultra in the U.S., he would be able to run like any other competitor.  Armstrong has recently begun to hit the trails for mountain running events, so perhaps the increases in prize money and notoriety for ultra-distance running will entice him to toe the line in the future.

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