Sunday, December 27, 2009

Good Enough for Lance - But Not for Manny?

Manny Pacquiao may not fight Floyd Mayweather, Jr. if he is forced to undergo extensive drug testing.

The most lucrative prizefight in boxing history is on hold - and is in danger of being canceled altogether - simply because Manny Pacquiao is balking at stringent drug testing procedures that have become routine and accepted by other professional and Olympic athletes.

Everyone knows the story of Lance Armstrong: Cancer survivor, seven-time winner of the Tour de France cycling race and champion fundraiser for those afflicted with the disease that nearly cost him his own life.

What you may not know about Lance Armstrong is that he has been subject to more drug tests - random, routine and otherwise - than perhaps any other athlete on the planet. Armstrong has even called himself, “the most tested athlete in the world.”

Professional cycling was once known as the “dirtiest” of all professional sports. For years, drug use was rampant and scandalous. Cyclists sought every conceivable pharmacological edge against their own teammates and competitors in a sport that is ultimately one of endurance.

Cyclists were once little more than a pharmacy on wheels. They ingested and injected various concoctions of designer drugs that aided them in their quest for championships. Misconduct of all sorts was the norm in professional cycling. Raids by police, customs officers and drug testing officials would uncover duffel bags packed with vials, syringes and pills. Cyclists would drop dead from overdoses.

The situation became so out of control that corporate sponsors, who fund the professional teams, began to flee the sport in an effort to distance themselves from the drug users and their criminal activity. As a result, the sport very nearly disintegrated under a dark cloud of illegal drug use.

Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France seven times. He was drug tested on hundreds of occasions.

Riding along in the midst of all of this, was of course, Lance Armstrong - who has never once tested positive for any illegal substance. But Armstrong, who went to France every July from 1999-2005 and won the most elite and prestigious of all cycling races seven times in a row, was always perceived by the French to be “dirty”.

The American came to their backyard and dominated. The French held a deep resentment toward him because of it. They believed there was no way that Armstrong could accomplish all that he had and do so without the aid of performance enhancing drugs.

In some regards, it is much the same way the Mayweather family, Floyd, Sr., Floyd, Jr. and Uncle Roger, feel about Manny Pacquiao’s accomplishments within the sport of boxing. As a result, they are requesting that Pacquiao be subject to a series of drug tests leading up to their proposed March 13 bout.

Pacquiao - who also has never once tested positive for any illegal substance - is refusing the tests for a variety of reasons. But the experience of Armstrong could be a learning experience for Pacquiao and his team.

Armstrong retired from cycling after his 2005 Tour victory, but he returned for this year’s race and finished a very respectable third place. In the years since his retirement, cycling had taken Draconian measures to clean up its act. Earlier this year, when the Tour organizers saw Armstrong riding their way, they sharpened their blood testing instruments.

The Tour de France is a three week long race that takes place in the countryside and mountains of France. The race is run on a different course each year and is approximately 2,000 miles in length. It has been called, and rightfully so, the most physically demanding sporting event in the world.

Mayweather and Pacquiao are ranked as the two best fighters in the world. Pacquiao is regarded as #1 with Mayweather right behind him.

During the 2009 Tour, Armstrong was tested virtually every single day - sometimes twice a day. The tests were sometimes random, but most times came after the conclusion of a day long stage of the race.

If Armstrong could be tested virtually every day of a nearly month long race and still have the energy to pedal up mountain peaks in the Alps and the Pyrennes mountains, it strains all rational argument when those who back Pacquiao claim that testing his blood, as Floyd Mayweather, Jr. is proposing, “would take too much out of Pacquiao" and leave him in a weakened state.

In training before his return to this year’s Tour, Lance Armstrong was tested 24 times between Sept. 2008 and March 2009. The tests consisted of urine, blood and even hair samples. The tests were often random - which means unannounced and without prior notification.

In one such test, a French anti-doping inspector - armed with a pair of scissors - cut clumps from Armstrong’s scalp. Another time, in the farthest reach of an Alpine mountain pass, an inspector appeared before sunrise and knocked on Armstrong’s door to obtain a specimen. Each time Armstrong willingly complied - and each time the result came back clean.

Pacquiao, who debuted as a professional 15 years ago as a scrawny 106-pounder - but who has since morphed into a lean and muscular 147-pound welterweight - has barely missed a step while winning titles or pieces of titles in a record seven weight divisions. As a result, his stunning accomplishments are being viewed by some with the same degree of skepticism that Armstrong’s record setting accomplishments were.

Pacquiao works in the gym as hard or harder than anyone in the sport of boxing.

Many are shaking their heads at Pacquiao’s refusal to submit to the Olympic style drug testing procedures proposed by Mayweather, Jr. and his braintrust. It is putting a fight that could gross over a quarter billion dollars in serious jeopardy.

If Pacquiao is indeed clean, most people are asking themselves, “Then what is the big deal?”

In a message that appears on Armstrong’s Web-site,, an explanation for his rationale in accepting all random drug testing, no matter how intrusive and uncomfortable the experience, is posted:

“It is unfortunate that whenever any athlete is successful there will be some who believe that the success is sufficient grounds for suspicion of doping,” the message states. “With the help of my management and cycling team, I have worked to develop a state-of-the-art comprehensive anti-doping program, in addition to the standard testing requirements from USADA (U.S. Anti-Doping Agency), WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) and the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale), to show my commitment to the sport and to racing clean.”

Armstrong, in addition to being one of the best cyclists that has ever lived, is also a personality that is known around the world. Like Pacquiao, his popularity transcends the very sport in which he competes. While Armstrong does not enjoy the random testing, he has learned that it is necessary to erase the doubts that surround his accomplishments and the sport in which he competes.

“I’m fully aware that it's part of the job,” Armstrong told the Associated Press in March of this year - just after his 24th test. “I knew that going in. I'm a little surprised by the frequency but I'm not complaining.”

Mayweather, Jr. wants Pacquiao to be subject to random drug testing which would include both urine and blood.

Bob Arum, Pacquiao’s promoter, released a statement Wednesday that indicated Pacquiao would submit to testing, but not in the manner that Mayweather, Jr. is proposing.

“Regarding the blood tests, he will subject himself to three tests; one given in January during the week the fight is formally announced, one thirty days from the fight, no later than February 13, and the final one immediately following the fight, in Manny’s locker room.”

However, the glaring flaw in Arum’s counter proposal is that unless a drug test is random in nature, then Pacquiao has the advantage of knowing exactly when he will be tested. As a result, were Pacquiao using performance enhancing drugs to aid his training, he would also know the time to stop taking such a substance in order for it to not show up on a test.

There are a variety of drugs that have clearance times of hours or days. As long as drug tests are spaced far enough apart and the dates are known to the athlete in advance - then the athlete can cease taking the drug prior to the test and have the benefit of a clean result.

A random test takes away that advantage for the athlete and it is why Olympic athletes, who train for months and years in advance of a competition, are subject to random tests. Otherwise, the athletes could easily beat the tests - yet Pacquiao is proposing just that. Meanwhile, Mayweather claims he is willing to abide by the standards of the random testing.

As uncomfortable as it may be, Pacquiao should submit to the random tests. There is no harm in proving to the world - and to Mayweather - that all of the hard work that he and Freddie Roach have put in over the years at the Wild Card Gym is real.

In addition, it makes everything that Pacquiao has accomplished over the years - with signature wins over Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Juan Manuel Marquez, Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto - that much more fantastic.

As Lance Armstrong learned, sometimes the only way forward in this jaded world is to remove every speck of doubt from the mind of the public.

If Lance can do it - why can’t Manny?

December 2009