Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Some things learned in 2006


With the passage of 2006 I thought that it might be time for me to actually express some things that have recently attained a little clarity for me...


Since I was very young my year has revolved around what particular sporting event was occurring. My Dad was the head of the athletic department of a small college in the town where I grew up, so watching sports has been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember. The year started with the NFL playoffs and the Australian Open, followed quickly by the Masters, the Triple Crown, and then the Stanley Cup playoffs -- which now oddly continue AFTER the Indy 500 is run. With summer comes Wimbledon and so on, you get the picture.

Until 1984 I had a "hole" in my summer sporting reality. That year I started paying attention to the Tour de France which was far more entertaining than the baseball All-Star borefest, and which got me through until the start of the LA Olympics. I was entranced and fascinated by all aspects of Grand Tour bicycle racing and became hooked. I come to this time of wrenching revaluation within professional road cycling honestly, and did not just jump on the "Lance bandwagon" .

Floyd Landis became a blip on my radar screen in 2003 when he rode for the USPS cycling team. I found his performance compelling in the 2004 TdF as he helped lug Lance Armstrong over the Alps. He did so on a hip that had barely healed after a devastating injury and two subsequent surgeries the winter before the tour began. Inspiring stuff.

Many of us know what has happened since that tour. Landis defected to Phonak and had a respectable first year with them, and then there was the paradoxically magical year 2006. In any circumstance, other than the one clouded by the suspicions that Floyd Landis now lives under, this year would have been spectacular. He won the Amgen Tour of California, The Tour of Georgia, Paris-Nice, and yes the Tour de France. Tiger Woods has been chosen by many as "Sportsman of the Year", I would suggest that Floyd Landis had as ground breaking a year as Tiger had, and with a compelling human interest back story to boot. Riding on a deteriorated hip (which few knew about until the mid point of the Tour de France) challenged him from the start, and the uncertainty it caused for his future in cycling may also have been his inspiration. The victory, the exultation, the positive test for t/e ratio, all came within a three day period, like a lurid mini lifetime lived out on the international media stage.

Just contemplating the triumphs and tragedies that have comprised Floyd Landis' life this year (no matter which side of the "guilty or not guilty" fence you occupy) can make you shake your head. How humans deal with this kind of saga is what drama is made of, and how this family must be endeavoring to simply maintain the normalcy of everyday life defines the term "coping skills". And yet those who have bothered to look and honestly observe have been able to watch this process closely.This is due the the public availability of Landis through interviews with him and his family, and on the Daily Peloton, an internet cycling forum and the disclosure of the documents that might damn him to an early retirement. Add to all of this hip replacement surgery in October and you now have the kind of stuff Hollywood makes up. The documents are there purposely to be scrutinized and analyzed as (inadvertently) is the person himself.

Being in the midst of this day in and day out is like watching someone lose weight slowly, you don't notice the impact of what is happening until you leave it for awhile. I have found this whole ordeal fascinating to view, and not just a bit guilt producing as well. Sometimes I think we know far too much about something and someone than can truly be justified -- some of which is surely none of the public's business. But there are some things to be gleaned from this situation that are of value.

One is that with all the talk of Landis' lost pay, prize winnings, and sponsorship money (and money lost from sponsorships to cycling in general) the human toll paid is of far greater importance. Obviously this price is one that mere observers may never really grasp. Guessing that it is of the greatest magnitude would be a sure bet, and one that no amount of money can cover.

I have also learned that no one, no matter the eventual outcome after the arbitration hearing between Landis and WADA/USADA "wins" in this debacle.

Landis has lost the reputation and respect that he worked so hard to achieve, no matter what the ruling these things are irrevocably gone. In addition he has suffered a personal loss that cannot begin to be calculated.

Cycling has lost no matter what the ruling. It has lost fans, sponsors, and has itself become the poster child for the use of PEDs in sports. The fans have also lost faith in cycling, no matter what happens in the arbitration hearing, now delayed until at least early spring, and if you go by some internet arguments that have persisted since the release of the Landis docs. civil war rages between the people who believe in Landis and those who believe that he must have enhanced his performance. Whatever the resolution to this incident, the arguments will continue for years to come.

The sports world has lost one of the finest performances ever seen in the history of Tour de France in Landis's seemingly superhuman effort on stage 17, to suspicion and doubt. Landis, of course, does not bear responsibility for these "loses" by himself, but he has unfortunately become their face.

I have learned that it's not really as entertaining as it might once have seemed to watch someone's life go down in flames.

There is nothing that many human beings crave more than "discovering" someone special and building them up out of all proportion -- until it comes to tearing them down. I guess it might be that we imagine we are seeing someone who is now more desperate than we are so it makes us feel better about our own desperation. Or we see someone who had a lot and has lost it so that makes us somehow equal.

No matter what the circumstances I will no longer feel any satisfaction over the demise of someone's reputation. Whether you think Landis is guilty or not, it has been difficult watching the pain, confusion, and sadness of a family so unprepared for what has befallen it. But even more than the apparent appetite of people to see this disgrace, I have been disheartened by the attitude of the press, and the sporting press in particular. I have read op-ed pieces, blog entries, general news articles, and articles written by professional sports reporters that had so many basic facts wrong that to call them inaccurate would be a gross understatement.

Landis has assumed a villainy comparable to that of OJ Simpson's. That he is being accused of cheating in the most prestigious bike race in the world is doubtless a serious issue, but from some of the things that have been written you'd think that murder, along with the decline of Western Civilization, have also been included in these accusations.

I've learned that hope can be addictive, and depending too much on it can be a dangerous thing. Of course hope is necessary to continue living, particularly under difficult circumstances, but hopes raised and dashed can be more damaging than the elimination of almost any other emotional nutrient.

Finally I've become aware of how grateful I am that my life is not lived under what appears to be the scrutiny of the entire world. That my everyday actions are not being examined in the manner that those of Floyd Landis, is of far more value than I ever realized. Being basically just plain anonymous has much more charm and cachet than the limelight could ever hold for me.

Should someone ask Floyd Landis, I am thinking that at this point, he too would settle for being just another face in the crowd.



dan said...


Well said.

- Rant