Anti-Doping Chief: Armstrong Knows Truth, Sticking To 'Baseless Soundbites'

Aug 24, 2012
Originally published on August 24, 2012 6:47 pm

The head of the United States Anti-Doping Agency says Lance Armstrong knows the truth and he has decided that instead of airing every piece of evidence publicly and in front of an impartial court, the dethroned seven-time Tour de France winner has decided to "hold on to baseless soundbites."

Travis Tygart, the CEO of the USADA, spoke to All Things Considered's Melissa Block, hours after Armstrong announced he would not fight the agency's doping allegations.

Armstrong issued a statement calling the USADA investigation an "unconstitutional witch hunt" based on "zero physical evidence."

Tygart said that with that statement Armstrong was relying on "tried and true PR soundbites that athletes who have been caught cheating with performance enhancing drugs say about the very people who are simply doing our jobs," protecting clean athletes.

Melissa pressed Tygart to gives us some idea of what physical evidence the USADA had and also to provide the names of the people who were ready to testify against Armstrong.

Tygart said that their decision to strip Armstrong of his Tour de France titles can still be appealed by the Union Cycliste Internationale — the international cycling federation — so he would not be naming names.

But he pointed to the USADA's charging letter against Armstrong. A test from 1999, he said, was re-tested and showed a positive EPO result. EPO is banned substance that increases the production of red blood cells. Tygart said they had evidence that a positive test that same year was covered up by the team. Further in 2001, a test was suspicious but "did not go through." In 2009 and 2010, said Tygart, tests showed signs that Armstrong had received blood transfusions.

"To say there is no evidence is a soundbite," said Tygart. "They had an opportunity to contest (the evidence) through a legal process that provides constitutional due process. There's an obvious reason why that was not chosen."

He said what the USADA uncovered is that Armstrong and his USPS professional cycling team was running "one of the most sophisticated drug conspiracies we've ever seen."

"Part of us would have been happy to present all the evidence in court, if anyone had any questions about what the truth is," Tygart said. "We've seen all the evidence and we know the truth.

"I think Mr. Armstrong also knows the truth and decided that instead of a fact-by-fact, piece-by-piece coming out in open court under oath, he decided his better move at this stage was just not to contest and hold on to some baseless soundbites about witch hunts and personal vendettas."

Tygart said this a tough day for everyone, even the USADA.

"But on the other hand it does provide hope that kids in this country who desire and dream about being a professional athlete or an amateur athlete or a high school athlete that they don't have to use dangerous drugs against the rules in order to be successful," he said.

Much more of Melissa and Tygart's conversation is on today's edition of All Things Considered. Click here to find your local NPR member station. We'll post the as-aired interview on this post a little later on tonight.

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It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Today, they made it official. The United States Anti-Doping Agency or USADA officially stripped cyclist Lance Armstrong of his seven titles in the Tour de France. The agency also issued a lifetime competitive ban on Armstrong. These moves came after Armstrong's decision not to fight doping charges through arbitration. USADA says Armstrong was part of a doping conspiracy going back to 1998.

And I'm joined by the head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, Tracy Tygart. Welcome to the program.

TRAVIS TYGART: Thank you for having us.

BLOCK: Mr. Tygart, you have seen the statement from Lance Armstrong. He calls this whole process Travis Tygart's unconstitutional witch hunt. He says this is your personal vendetta against him. What do you say to him?

TYGART: Well, look, you know, those are sort of tried and true PR soundbites that athletes who have been caught cheating with performance-enhancing drugs say about the very people who are just simply here doing our job to protect clean athletes. It's the identical statements, I think, Marion Jones first coined back in '03 about us. Our decisions in every case, whether someone's famous, a celebrity hero like a Lance Armstrong or a Marion Jones, or is anonymous, we base all of our decisions on the evidence and nothing more than the evidence.

BLOCK: Well, let's talk about the evidence because Lance Armstrong says you have, in his words, zero physical evidence to support what he's calling your outlandish and heinous claims. Help us out here. What is the physical evidence that you have against Lance Armstrong?

TYGART: Well, we've got a number of people who have come forward who are participants and who eyewitnessed and were direct observers of one of the most sophisticated drug conspiracies that we've ever seen. And this was a U.S. pro cycling team sponsored by the U.S. Postal Service that really put in place a sophisticated and professional program to defeat testing but used these drugs in order to win. We've provided him the notice letter and the charge letter, blood testing data from 2009 and 2010 when he was competing as an elite cyclist that indicates manipulation of his blood.

BLOCK: Now, when you say it indicates manipulation, are you saying that it wasn't a positive result for something in his blood? Is it something other than that?

TYGART: Yeah, there's no current test for blood transfusions, so there's no positive test for blood transfusion. But when you look at someone's blood over a period of time, as we presented to him, you can draw - scientifically draw definitive conclusions based on that data. And what we said in our charge letter that he, you know, chose not to contest is that that blood indicated clear manipulation by him, and we had additional, you know, testimony and other evidence to support that.

BLOCK: You have - your agency has said, Mr. Tygart, that you have more than a dozen eyewitnesses who are prepared to testify against Lance Armstrong about doping. Who are they? What are their names?

TYGART: You know, we're - we've got three cases that are ongoing, and we'll be doing a findings of fact based on all of the evidence that's in our possession about this conspiracy to provide to UCI. So given, you know, just that legal process that's ongoing with those other cases, we're not in position to reveal that at this stage.

BLOCK: You mentioned UCI. That's the International Cycling Union.

TYGART: That's right.

BLOCK: This question of eyewitnesses is relevant because Lance Armstrong claims that you, USADA, cut them what he calls sweetheart deals in exchange for information against him.

TYGART: Again, I think what's really important is that Lance Armstrong and all of the people that have been charged - it's not USADA that makes a decision based on the evidence. They have an opportunity to contest whatever evidence we, you know, believe rises to the level to prove that they committed doping, anti-doping rule violations through an established legal process that the federal judge in Austin, Texas, on Monday said was fair and provided full constitutional due process to anyone that's accused and have your day in court. And we'll see what the truth is. And, look, there's the obvious reason why that path wasn't chosen.

BLOCK: You mentioned the federal judge in Texas who allowed this case to go forward. He also, though, did write this in his ruling. He said: USADA's conduct raises serious questions about whether its real interest in charging Armstrong is to combat doping or if it is acting according to less noble motives. And it implied politics and publicity. It's not just Lance Armstrong raising those concerns, it seems.

TYGART: Well, the judge said all that can be decided when the evidence is presented. I mean, no - you know, the judge was real clear that those weren't issues, and they weren't issues. And we didn't have an opportunity to provide any evidence on, you know, what are the merits of the allegations. And let's have Travis Tygart or the USADA board members take the stand, and we'll tell you what our motives are.

And our motives are nothing more than to treat every athlete the same and to ensure that future generations of athletes have the hope and the belief that they can compete on a level playing field and don't have to use dangerous performance-enhancing drugs in order to be successful.

And every parent out there - you know, look, it's a tough day. We don't like these situations either. But on the other hand, it does provide hope that kids in this country who desire and dream about being a professional athlete or an amateur athlete or a high school athlete, that they don't have to use dangerous drugs against the rules in order to be successful.

BLOCK: Travis Tygart, thank you for talking with us today.

TYGART: Thanks for your time.

BLOCK: Travis Tygart is CEO of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, USADA. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.