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Tour de France Champion Suspected of Doping Gets Hearing

May 24, 2007 at 6:45 PM EDT
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JEFFREY BROWN: Soon after Floyd Landis won cycling’s most prestigious event last summer, the Tour de France, news surfaced that he had tested positive for synthetic testosterone, a banned drug. Landis insisted he never took any performance-enhancing drugs.

FLOYD LANDIS, Cyclist: I declare convincingly and categorically that my winning the Tour de France has been exclusively due to many years of training and my complete devotion to cycling.

JEFFREY BROWN: Landis has been fighting the charges ever since. Over the last 10 days, he’s appeared before an arbitration hearing with the U.S. Anti- Doping Agency to assess whether he violated rules. He could become the first tour winner in history to be stripped of the title for doping. The hearing, which featured dramatic testimony and scandalous subplots, wrapped up yesterday in Malibu, California.

And for more, we turn to Tom Goldman, sports correspondent for National Public Radio. He’s been covering the Landis hearing and has reported on sports doping since 1990. He joins us from Portland, Oregon.

Tom, it sound as though one side was saying, “The science and facts are clear,” while the other side was saying, “Maybe so, but the testing itself was flawed.” Is that a way to look at it?

TOM GOLDMAN, National Public Radio: Yes, that is, Jeff. The main thing — and it was summarized in the closing arguments yesterday — was the Landis side basically attacked the French lab that carried out the analysis on Floyd Landis’ urine samples. The lawyer said there were mistakes, errors in identification, errors in quality control, errors all the way through. And he said, “If it wasn’t so awful, it would be funny.”

On the other side, the prosecution, the attorneys for the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, said the lab is one of the best in the world and they carried out the procedures properly. Floyd Landis, in fact, did dope when he tested positive for banned synthetic testosterone and, in their mind, it’s a slam-dunk case.

JEFFREY BROWN: The fact that this is playing out in public is unusual, isn’t it?

TOM GOLDMAN: It is unusual. Athletes have always had the opportunity to have their cases heard in the open, but usually they haven’t. And this is the first one since the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has been prosecuting drug cases since the year 2000, this is the first time that an athlete has chosen to do it. And it’s been part of Floyd Landis’ very public campaign.

I mean, what’s unique about this case — there are several things that are unique, that it’s an open hearing — but also rarely, if ever, does an athlete accused of doping so vociferously, so aggressively try and publicly prove his innocence and claim publicly that he’s innocent.

I mean, Floyd Landis not only had the open hearing, but he presented his defense online. He’s been having town hall meetings throughout the country to raise funds for his defense, very interesting in that he’s been so aggressive in that way.

LeMond's blackmail threat

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, it sounds as though a lot of that debate has been overshadowed by a nasty blackmail threat that involved another champion, a former champion, Greg LeMond. Can you summarize that for us?

TOM GOLDMAN: Yes. And, you know, a lot of people -- we've reported on this kind of as the circus sideshow. I think it's more important than that and significant. Greg LeMond was called to testify by the prosecution to talk about a phone call he had with Floyd Landis last year, in which he was encouraging Landis to come clean, to tell the truth if Landis, in fact, had doped.

What's interesting, as that was being hashed over, another phone call came to light, which really became a focal point, and what most people are going to remember about this hearing. Apparently, the night before LeMond testified, he got a phone call from Landis' business manager, a man named Will Geoghegan. And in that phone call, Will Geoghegan threatened to reveal something Greg LeMond had told Floyd Landis in private in their phone conversation a year ago, and that was that, when Greg LeMond was a child, he was sexually abused.

Now this, LeMond filed a police report, you know, for possible witness tampering this could be, and that really took on a life of its own and kind of descended into kind of the sordid aspect of doping and doping allegations. What came out after that, in subsequent testimony, was that Floyd Landis was in the room when Will Geoghegan made that phone call and that he, in fact, told Will Geoghegan about Greg LeMond's sexual abuse.

So, you know, there was that connection people were trying to draw. Landis' lawyers were very strong in saying, "You can't make a connection between the two." Floyd Landis was in the same room, and he did tell Will Geoghegan about the sexual abuse, but you can't say that he ordered him to make the phone call.

Cycling's 'reputation is at stake'

JEFFREY BROWN: Tom, if you look beyond the Landis case, this looks like a very troubled sport, even beyond this. Even today, there were two more professional cyclists that admitted to using drugs in the '90s. Every day, there seems to be something new. What are the stakes for the sport itself?

TOM GOLDMAN: Its reputation is at stake. And the difference between this sport and other sports that have had issues with doping is you see the financial impact. Sponsors are pulling out; races are being canceled.

There is the beginning of an economic impact, which is the thing that usually will motivate leaders in sport to take dramatic action. The leaders of cycling say they are going to take that dramatic action, but it's almost like cycling is trying to get to the starting line here, as you say, one revelation after the next.

Baseball and drug use

JEFFREY BROWN: Let me ask you briefly about another sport, that's one many more Americans watch, baseball, because you're also following what's happening there. A recent development was Jason Giambi, New York Yankees star, gave an interview to USA Today, and he said, "I was wrong for doing that stuff. What we should have done a long time ago was stand up, players, ownership, everybody, and said, 'We made a mistake.'"

Now, this was taken as a clear reference to use of drugs in the past. He was called in to talk to baseball officials. Where does that stand?

TOM GOLDMAN: Well, he had his chat with Major League Baseball. We don't know what exactly was said in there, because no one is talking about that.

The interesting part of that statement by Jason Giambi was not about him doing "that stuff." He made a similar kind of admission in spring training in 2005, where he was very general. He made an admission, but it was very general. He never uttered the word "steroids."

The interesting part of it was when Giambi was saying -- basically implying that everyone is culpable, baseball, as well as the individual players who were involved with doping. And this is a very powerful statement. We don't know if baseball called him in to punish him for that, to in a sense slap his hand for that. We will find out in the coming days.

But it's a very interesting point, and a lot of skeptics say this is part of the problem. Individual players are nailed for doping, but where was baseball while this all was happening? The steroid era lasted some say 15 years, maybe up to 20 years. Where was baseball in seeing sometimes some very visible signs that this was going on?

JEFFREY BROWN: And, Tom, of course, the really big issue, or the really big shadow here for a lot of people, is Barry Bonds as he pursues the home run record. The question of how baseball will respond, how fans will respond to that, where do things stand?

TOM GOLDMAN: There's a tremendous amount of anxiety over the early part of this baseball season because of that. It's an amazing confluence of things. You have the player who's really the most visible face of doping. He's never tested positive, but he's been implicated in the BALCO doping scandal, and he's about to break the biggest record in sports.

And that's a combustible moment. And we still don't know what's going to happen. We don't know if the commissioner of baseball is going to show up. He doesn't say publicly. It's a difficult one for him. Fans are conflicted on how to approach this.

I think what most people agree is, let's hurry up and get it over with. And, unfortunately, Bonds isn't cooperating right now. He's in a bit of a home run drought.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, we'll keep watching. Tom Goldman of NPR, thanks very much.

TOM GOLDMAN: You're welcome.