Armstrong recalled as loner in ’92 visit
Emerging victorious from the 1992 Olympic Trials in Altoona, a young Lance Armstrong is depicted on a poster with his American cycling teammates for the Olympic Games in Barcelona.
Years later, he’d overcome cancer and the sport would reap much from his superb Tour de France victories.
Then, he’d fall from grace.
“It’s a shame about Lance,” former Altoona Bicycle Club President Kirk Leidy said. “He really made his debut here in Altoona. He had high prospects, but not a lot of fans at that point.”
Today, Armstrong’s pre-taped confession to Oprah Winfrey airs on the Oprah Winfrey Network, ending years of his denials of illegal performance enhancement allegations that resulted in his banishment from cycling last fall.
Long and lean, Armstrong, 41, walks onto Oprah’s set, adjusts the lapels of his casual blazer and sinks into his chair, cross-legged with one arm propped up to allow a hand to nervously, or thoughtfully, touch his lips.
Armstrong was successful among the 1,000-plus athletes in Altoona two decades ago, earning a spot in the Barcelona Olympics with a victory in the men’s road race.
He was a private young man, 21 years old, who stayed in a hotel rather than staying in the Penn State Altoona campus housing with “the other kids,” former Altoona Olympic Trial Executive Director Glenda Clemenson-Forosisky said.
“He really didn’t join in a lot of the team activities,” she said. “He was a loner at the time.”
At the 2007 UCI Cycling World Championship, a story broke about American cyclist Floyd Landis’ steroid use after testing positive shortly after a race.
“I was asking questions [about Armstrong] at the championship,” said Leidy, also former board president of USA Cycling, recognized by cycling’s international ruling body as the national governing body for cycling in the United States.
“The UCI felt there was different things going on, but as Lance said, he was tested 500-plus times and never positive,” Leidy said.
Today, anyone walking down the street will likely see someone wearing a yellow bracelet supporting the charity Armstrong propelled to a $500 million level with an inspiring comeback from testicular cancer and seven consecutive 2,000-plus- mile Tour de France victories beginning in 1999.
All of those victories were stripped away from Armstrong by cycling’s ruling body in October, following a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report. His Livestrong Foundation, continuing legitimate work in cancer research, has dropped Armstrong’s name.
Armed with more than 1,000 pages of evidence including 11 testimonies of former teammates, USADA CEO Travis Tygart called the US Postal Service Pro Team’s alleged doping scheme masterminded by Armstrong “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.”
As an Olympic logistics director for cycling and as a national referee since 1985, Leidy has seen cyclist team vans, become a hangout for girlfriends and a number of other tag-alongs. That presumably was not the case for the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team van, where Armstrong and his teammates allegedly used performance-enhancing drugs and blood bags to increase their red blood cell count.
“I’ve seen the vans, but you never get too close to that stuff. I don’t understand how they got away with it,” he said.
Today, Winfrey’s interview with Armstrong airs his confessions of using performance enhancers. A silent clip was shown during Tuesday’s edition of “CBS This Morning.”
In a text message to the Associated Press on Saturday, Armstrong said: “I told her [Winfrey] to go wherever she wants and I’ll answer the questions directly, honestly and candidly. That’s all I can say.”
Armstrong’s blood doping agenda meant his team allegedly packaged their blood and stored it. Then, during racing season they’d enhance athletic performance by stacking their red blood cells through blood transfusions.
“The blood would have to be temperature-controlled, and we are talking about transporting it to Europe,” said Leidy, who’s directed cycling logistics for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. “You just don’t throw it in a suitcase and take it somewhere.”
Leidy has officiated at several cycling events in Texas hosted by the Livestrong Foundation in Washington, D.C., and Texas. That experience led him to believe fans will still view Armstrong as an inspiring cancer survivor.
“He’s done tremendous things for cancer and no one can take that away from him,” Leidy said. “He gave a lot of people hope.”
But he held onto lies for too long, said Clemenson-Forosisky.
“I’m quite sure people who looked at him as a hero are seeing him different now because they stuck with him when he denied it,” she said.
Leidy said there’s been an increased effort to clean the sport up over the past six years. For example, he said it’s not uncommon to be at an event and see an athlete tested three times in a day.
“Cycling has moved on,” he said. “They knew for the past couple of years that this would come out. You had to wonder because Armstrong was beating people who have confessed to being on performance enhancing drugs.”
Leidy is currently preparing for a UCI world championship in Richmond, Va., for 2015, as well as some races in Ireland from his home office in Altoona.
“Compared to other sports – football, hockey, baseball – cycling has been in the forefront when it comes to drug testing,” Leidy contends.
USADA staff members in blue lab jackets wait to prick race winners with needles or collect urine samples after a race.
But Leidy said doping is widespread among cyclists and Armstrong is only one of the top competitors who succumbed to it.
“I’m sorry to see it happen. I feel bad for the sport and the Livestrong people who [Armstrong’s] given hope to,” he said.
“In the long run, I hope it teaches young people that taking the short cut is not the way to go. It’s better to take the moral way in life no matter how hard it is,” he said.
Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.