23 thoughts on “The Mountains of France and the Chasms Within Us

  1. Jim Leinfelder says:

    Brings to mind the closing scene from Woody Allen’s, “Manhattan,” in which Tracy says to Isaac:
    “Not everybody gets corrupted. You have to have a little faith in people.”


      1. Dennis Lang says:

        Hmm…. and she was perfection–as that character in that role–the only balanced human being in the story. I wonder how many of us have to be delusional to survive these days. Intriguing piece by Souder. Many implications.

  2. I read the SI piece, and the takeaway revelation for me was the number of people close to Armstrong who knew what was going on, or were in a position to presume and investigate, but didn’t . I’d assumed that regular doping under the kind of microscope watching Armstrong would be very much a solo thing, shooting up under the blankets at night or something and denying everything even to his closest associates. The spectacle of so many others — riders, money-gatherers, chemists, what have you — paints a picture of a pretty corrupt closed society, maybe even as bad as late-90s baseball or today’s NFL.

    1. Exactly…which is why I think you have to label the sport corrupt. Inside cycling, everybody knew. But more importantly, everybody was guilty. So the code of silence was in full force.

      And I think you can extend that to the journalists close to the sport who covered it while turning a blind eye to what was going on. High on the list of people I think have some explaining to do would be Sally Jenkins, who co-authored two books with and about Armstrong.

      1. Jim Leinfelder says:

        No doping in hurling. No money at stake. Just county honor. Though there are, of course, GAA rules against it.

  3. But, for 7 years straight, he was the Best of the Best Doped Cyclists in Le Tour!

    Seriously, didn’t they all dope? For decades before and has been proven since? All these testing agencies do is set a standard level to dope up to.

    And Lance was THE most tested doper of them all and he never tested positive in a publicly released test result…that was a big accomplishment that involved a huge commitment to the sport…he set the mark high.

    And because he set the mark so high, we can now have every year’s champion be suspect and how many winners since have been caught because of how hard Lance made the testing agencies work?

    The dirty dirty dirty truth of sport…all sports, for 50+ years, have been dominated by dopers.

    And the handful of truly gifted athletes who may have slipped into the higher levels due to a freakishly high natural levels of testosterone/et al to somehow compete equally with these dopers…just became collateral damage to this sweeping realization.

    At first this disappointed me to realize my many years of lost adolation and wasted time spent watching these sports. Then I realized the real gain was that I excaped them intact, I was never good enough to be forced into their position…and yet I have a level of personal fitness that is comfortable enough to slog around running, skiing, and biking.

    I am blessed. In many ways, so too are they, these ‘dopers’…they just need to enjoy the rest of their lives without the attachment to these once glory years, and without regard to anyone else’s judgement of taint.

    They did their best at that time, what they saw others doing, what they were told to do, and what was expected of them, and now their best days are ahead of them.

    I wrote a few years back about one such biker, to say he was free now in retirement from his pursuit of greatness and could now resume his pursuit of goodness. So too, are we.

    1. Jim…I’ve seen this sad, famous footage a number of times. One of the telling details is that most of the spectators are shirtless…evidence of the heat that day. You also get a sense of the appalling drop into the valley from the roadway. He could have as easily been killed by swerving to the left. Simpson’s erratic side-to-side riding is thought to have been a sub-consious effort to keep going by reducing the grade…evidence that he was past the point of knowing how far he had extended himself.

      Every rider has a limit…a speed that is too fast, a grade that is too steep…beyond which he or she must stop or at least slow dramatically. It’s called “bonking,” and it has happened to every competitive cyclist.

      But just short of bonking is the true realm of the elite bike racer…that place where the pain tells you to stop but you do not. Great cyclists have an innate ability to go faster and go longer than mere mortals. But they also have a natural tolerance for pain that allows them to ride at their limit over long distances.

      Do you know the Dutch writer Tim Krabbe? An unusually gifted man. I suppose he’s in his late 60s now. He has been a chess champion and a fairly competitive road racing cyclist…as well as a novelist. He’s probably best known for “The Vanishing,” which was turned into a pretty good and really creepy movie with Keifer Sutherland and Jeff Bridges.

      Anyway, I recommend Krabbe’s book “The Rider,” about a half-day bike race. In it, he muses about the suffering…the pain…that impels the cyclist to go on against the instinct that tells him to stop. “After the finish, all the suffering turns to memories of pleasure,” Krabbe writers, “and the greater the suffering the greater the pleasure.”

      So…as grim as these images of Tom Simpson are, what they really make you wonder is this: Why doesn’t this happen more often?

      1. Jim Leinfelder says:

        Oh, yes, I’m well aware of “bonking.” In the single marathon I ran, in unseasonal 83-degree fall heat, people were bonking right and left in the final approach up St. Paul’s Summit Avenue and being gently guided off to the cool grass on either side of the street by people speaking in kndly sing-song tones wearing red t-shirts with stethoscopes draped over their necks. Feeling like I’d been hit with a two-by-four and unable to come up with the names of well wishers whose names I knew as well as my own who shouted ludicrously kind things such as: “lookin’ good,” from the curb (ironically, I probably was suffering from hyponatremia, too much water) it was like trying to get through a drunk driver dragnet to avoid being guided to the margins by the medics just as I we were about to finish this damn thing. I crossed the line and, after a bit, vomited what seemed like a gallon of water and dragged myself off to some shade. I learned later that at about the same time, some poor bastard was dying of heat prostration in the medical tent.

        During one of the many Birkies I’ve skied, I skied past an unconscious, blue-complected man prostrate off to the side of the crowded course being worked on furiously by paramedics as others were securing him to a board to move him to a waiting snowmobile-drawn sled. I learned after the arriving in Hayward that he did not survive.

        Even we weekend warriors have some familiarity with reaching what seems at first to be our limit and then carrying on a bit further to find that, no, we’ve a bit more left in us.

        Of course, we’re generally not addled by drugs as all that is at stake is beating our last year’s selves. And as we get older, even that becomes an impossibility and all we have left to defeat is that voice in our head telling us to just give up.

    1. Well, darts is a barroom pastime…whereas bicycle road-racing is one of the world’s greatest and most demanding sports…though I get that to you it’s about as interesting as darts.

      As a matter of fact, I do think performance enhancing drugs are probably used by athletes in sports where you wouldn’t expect it to happen. For example, I am not the only person who thinks the physical transformation of Tiger Woods from scrawny to brawny is eerily similar to Barry Bonds’ astonishing gains.

    2. I don’t know know specifically about competitive darts, but I know that rifle athletes are tested for beta blockers, which can help calm nerves. Seems like a decent drug of choice for golf tournaments as well (paired with strength building drugs during training).

      1. Unless we’re talking about the biathlon…one of the most challenging of all sports…I’d question whether competitive shooters are “athletes.” It does have a physical component…but one that, to me, seems more akin to woodworking or dealing a hand of bridge.

        But your point is well taken. Cheating is whatever is against the rules

  4. PM says:

    I remember reading an article about how a huge number of professional athletes used “vitamin I” (ibuprofen) before games, in the belief that tolerance of pain would increase their performance, make it easier for them to exert to the max, etc.

    a double blind experiment was done which demonstrated that, for whatever reason, ibuprofen prior to athletic exertion actually lessened performance–I am pretty sure it was aerobic performance they were measuring.

    I suppose the point is that athletic performance is, at bottom, profoundly psychological, and thinking that you have an edge is important. This leads to a perverse incentive–the more we ban performance enhancing drugs, the greater the incentive for an athlete to use them–because we wouldn’t ban them if they were not effective, right?

    What about tennis? Do you think that Nadal got those arms just by pumping iron? Does he go to the same doctors as Contador?

    1. Jim Leinfelder says:

      I used to take “Vitamin I” prophylactically before hurling workouts and matches to mitigate inflammation and, thus, pain afterwards.

      I’ve since been disabused of using any NSAIDs before athletic exertion by my wife, a physician, who explained to me that NSAIDs prevent the body from manufacturing prostaglandins, which, yes, mediate pain and inflammation, but also act as mediators for a variety of physiologic functions including protecting the stomach lining, and regulating blood pressure.

      Since NSAIDs don’t differentiate between prostoglandins, NSAIDs tem sometimes cause stomach upset or gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding. The risk of stomach irritation or GI bleeding increases with long-term use of NSAIDs. It also increases the risk of hyponatremia, which is far more dangerous than dehydration for distance athletes.

      Anyway, yeah, bottom line, aside from the possible placebo effects, studies show no benefits to taking Vitamin I before exercise and plenty of indications of harm that can result.

  5. I have no idea about Nadal. But tennis players are prone to injury and overuse ailments…and steroids can affect recovery times from exertion and from injury…so I guess they’d offer benefits to tennis players similar to those for, say, a baseball pitcher. Nadal or any other top player might have the same motivation as Roger Clemens.

    Athletic permformance involves a complex interaction between innate ability and a host of external factors. Differences in natural athletic ability vary greatly among the general population…but tend to be small within groups of elite athletes. So, in a sense, the better you are, the LESS you will gain from P.E.D.s…and the more important that small gain may be.

    Here’s a question to ponder: Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire saw big increases in their home-run production by taking steroids (or so we all assume). But is that because steroids made them a lot stronger or only a little? Is the difference between 30 home-runs a year and 70 big or small?

    I’d argue that the answer is probably small…that the difference in strength and bat speed that produce a long fly-ball out vs. a home-run that just clears the fence is not much. If your are a naturally gifted power hitter to begin with, even a modest improvement could result in a soaring home-run total.

    1. Dennis Lang says:

      Interesting conjecture with Bonds and McGwire as examples, but how might we explain Brady Anderson, the Oriole outfielder who typically hit 12–15 homeruns suddenly blasting 50? I presume there must be similar instances of lesser degree throughout sport.

  6. Well, if the before-and-after pictures of Anderson show an astonishing increase in body mass…that would be suspicious. I wouldn’t automatically condemn every athlete who improves dramatically as a cheater. But if we’ve learned one thing in recent years, it’s that the use of PEDs is NEVER underestimated.

    The other thing we should have learned…but maybe haven’t yet…is that there is real, legal jeopardy attached to cheating and/or lying abou it. Remember: Marion Jones, once America’s sweetheart, went to prison. Don’t be suprised if Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens or Lance Armstrong ends up the same.

    1. Dennis Lang says:

      That is fascinating. I wonder though if something akin to the placebo effect might be at work here. God and or some belief in providence–the sugar pill.

  7. PM says:

    I suppose that this is something that calls out for a cross cultural examination–if this trend exists in Americans, does it also exist among European soccer players or cyclists, for example?

    Frankly, I doubt it. I just think that it is more accepted in the US to say something along the lines of “I am so great because God wants me to be great”, than it is to say, simply, “I am the greatest”. A form of false modesty

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