Is Lance Armstrong a drugs cheat or a chemical pioneer?

This is quite tricky to argue because of the basic dishonesty of Lance Armstrong who won seven Tour De France’s whilst high as a kite on performance enhancing drugs. In rock n roll performance enhancing drugs are celebrated but in sport they are not…

Of course he was cheating but is gaining an edge by whatever means not part of the sporting lexicon?

It’s certainly part of history which has seen drug enhanced sport going back for millennia.

Texts going back to antiquity suggest that humans have always tried to work harder or at least suffer less as they were doing so. When the fittest of a nation were selected as athletes or combatants, they were fed diets and given treatments considered beneficial. For instance, Scandinavian mythology says Berserkers could drink a mixture called “butotens”, perhaps prepared from the Amanita muscaria mushroom, to increase their physical power a dozen times at the risk of insanity. In more recent times, the German missionary and doctor Albert Schweitzer wrote of Gabon in the early 19th century: “The people of the country can, having eaten certain leaves or roots, toil vigorously all day without feeling hungry, thirsty or tired and all the time showing a happiness and gaiety.”

A participant in an endurance walking race in Britain, Abraham Wood, said in 1807 that he had used laudanum, or opium, to keep him awake for 24 hours while competing against Robert Barclay Allardyce.By April 1877, walking races had stretched to 500 miles and the following year, also at the Agricultural Hall in Islington, London, to 520 miles. These are just a few examples of many.

Most sports are riddled with drugs, it’s just that same countries are better at hiding it than others. Also is there a big difference between taking drugs or having superior training techniques? are drugs illegal because they are bad for you and will end up killing you? or is it a genuine case of trying to create a level playing field in sport?

Because, let’s face it, there is no level playing field in sport. A richer country like America has amazing training facilities for its athletes whilst a poor country has nothing- is this fair? with superior diets and training methods the rich countries get one hell of head start- is this fair?

Of course lying about taking drugs is not in the spirit of sport but lets not pretend that it’s all fair and square out there- idealistically sport is about the taking part and we love people like Bradley Wiggins for making it to the top on hard graft and pure training but we would have to be fools to think that sport is not about seeking the edge whether it’s by Bradley’s hard graft or Armstrong’s doping.

Maybe the drugs cheats are performance pioneers whose dealing with the chemical devil may one day open the gates for everyone to use them? are they voluntary guinea pigs for shady drug barons? Why are some performance enhancers like creatine legal? can sport only be fair if everyone has the same facilities/diets and training with or without the drugs?

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. Stretch Armstrong is hardly the first cyclist to be caught using gear – the logic is the same as with track and field – if everyone else is on drugs then surely YOU need to be on drugs to compete – witness the farce over ben Johnson and carl lewis, irish swimmer michelle smith, almost all rugby league players on steds, linford christie, alberto contador – google ‘pot belge’ which cyclists used to guzzle before races – even shaun ryder would’ve swerved that mix.

  2. Interesting and balanlanced, but assuming that Wiggins is not cheating at all may be a bit too optimistic (I’m not saying this only because I’m not british). Long live Cycling.


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