Lance Armstrong recently proclaimed in a podcast interview that he is interested in getting into ultra running and obstacle course racing. His interview on Movember Radio has already caught the attention of many in sport. The trail running world has already exploded in the wake of Armstrong running and winning the small Woodside Ramble, a 35K trail race in California on Sunday. Tensions have run high on social media in the wake of Armstrong's win on both camps. With the recent NBC Sports article, the obstacle racing community is beginning to voice their opinions as well. But the question is if Armstrong wants to compete in OCR's at a competitive level will he be eligible?
WADA Lifetime Ban
Armstrong won the Tour de France seven consecutive times from 1999 to 2005, then was stripped of those victories in 2012 after a widely publicized doping scandal came to light. He received a “lifetime ban” from cycling. What does a lifetime ban mean? Armstrong has been banned from all cycling competition for life, but within the WADA Guidelines, he can compete again in another sport.
According to slowtwitch.com Armstrong could be back to racing as soon as August 2016. Armstrong in 2012 received a lifetime ban from competing in cycling in the wake of his previous doping. According to the 2009 WADA Guidelines 10.10.1 after four years Armstrong can legally compete outside of cycling again.
“An Athlete or other Person subject to a period of Ineligibility longer than four (4) years may, after completing four (4) years of the period of Ineligibility, participate in local sport events in a sport other than the sport in which the Athlete or other Person committed the anti-doping rule violation, but only so long as the local sport event is not at a level that could otherwise qualify such Athlete or other Person directly or indirectly to compete in (or accumulate points toward) a national championship or International Event.”
But what does this mean for Armstrong? USADA (United States Anti-Doping Association) spokesperson Annie Skinner summarized it like this…
“Mr. Armstrong may not participate in an event that has the potential to qualify him to compete in (or accumulate points toward) a national championship, a world championship or an international event other than a world championship. In terms of what qualifies as an international event, this depends upon the specific sports rules. However, in general, events licensed, sanction or authorized by an international federation, including world championships, world cups and other such events qualify.”
Does OCR have National or International Championships?
OCR is still very much the wild west when it comes to the evolution of the sport. As it currently stands there is no overarching sanctioning body for the sport, no national governing body, and currently race series still struggle to play together in the proverbial sandbox. While many entities are trying to fill these voids the sport is not there yet.
The question becomes would events like OCR World Championships, Spartan Race World Championships, BattleFrog Series Championships, World's Toughest Mudder and other championship event fall into the “a national championship or International Event” as stated by WADA Guidelines. The question becomes who makes the decision in the void of a true international federation and national governing body.
While many in the industry agree the OCR World Championships is the closest the sport has come to a true international championships does our industry consensus hold up in front of an organization like WADA or USADA.
The answer is murky, and currently, it seems it would come down to individual race series working with USADA to determine if Armstrong would be ale to compete and at what level. Currently, the only race that holds itself to WADA standards is OCR World Championships. Spartan Race and Tough Mudder have both indicated in their rules that athletes might be subject to drug testing but as of now OCRWC is the only one actively testing. However, that testing is only once a year at the event.
In most sports, athletes competing at the national and international level are drug tested throughout the season randomly. Currently, without an international federation or national governing body, there is no structure to support such testing.
How Does this Effect Lance Armstrong and OCR?
During the recent Movember podcast recorded at Armstrong's home, he indicated he might “find a 100-miler to run or find an obstacle-course race that’s super challenging,” most likely in 2016. So it seems OCR is now on Armstrong's radar but what events will he be able to compete in and at what level?
This begs the question, will Armstrong under WADA sanctions and USADA rulings be able to compete at a competitive level in OCR? How does his possible entrance into the sport affect others in the future? While Armstrong has not directly said he wants to toe the line next names like Jon Albon and Ryan Atkins, we can surmise that his intentions are to race not just compete.
According to the above statement and guidelines from both the USADA and WADA, it appears Armstrong’s options in OCR could be limited, and Armstrong could be ineligible for many of the most popular series and races in the sport depending on how strictly the rules are interpreted.
With series like Spartan Race and BattleFrog Series having a points ranking system is that enough to preclude him from competing? Looking at Ms. Skinner's statement above there is a fair amount of wiggle room within the ruling. Without a universally recognized sanctioning body many questions are in the air regarding which OCR's Armstrong could compete in and at what level would he be allowed.
Obstacle Course Racing has always been a sport that is welcoming to all and has excluded no one. But what happens when a high profile athlete like Lance Armstrong, with a rocky past, wants to enter our sport. Where does he fit into the mix and how is our sport positioned to handle someone like him?
Who is there to tell him whether he can compete or not? Currently, we have more questions than answers. Armstrong's comment of possible interest in OCR could be the catalyst for greater conversations and evolution within the industry.
While the OCR industry will debate which championship is legitimate or who has the authority or allow or preclude someone from racing, one thing that most people can agree with is Armstrong would be welcome in almost any open heat in our industry.