Lance Armstrong and Alex Rodriguez suddenly have a lot in common. Two of the most successful athletes of the last decade, both men have reputations tainted by performance-enhancing drug (PED) use, and both men are faced with a similar challenge in 2009: restore their reputations by excelling at the highest levels of their sport under intense public scrutiny and with zero assistance from PEDs. (And both men are now sidelined by injuries.)
On the surface of things, they are confronted with what sounds like a fair test. If Lance can win the Tour de France, and Rodriguez can maintain his prodigious output as a hitter, then perhaps we could conclude that PEDs failed to significantly boost their performance in the first place. With clean systems devoid of PEDs, we know they are excelling on account of their wits, talent, and natural strength, right?
Rodriguez should have difficulty clearing his name because the benefits of anabolic steroid use endure long after usage has stopped. A 2008 study concluded that, "a period of anabolic steroid usage is an advantage for a power lifter in competition, even several years after they stop taking a doping drug."I'm not aware of any reason why anabolic steroid use by baseball players wouldn't confer the same long-term advantages as those experienced by power lifters.
Armstrong's case is even more ambiguous, in part because the testing that connect him to PED use have not been definitive, forcing his accusers to rely on more circumstantial evidence. Additionally, even if we knew he was a user, no one has studied the long-term effects of EPO use in athletes. Until those tests are conducted, we cannot know if simply stopping use returns the body to its prior state.
In short, if using performance-enhancing drugs permanently alters body composition, then regulatory regimes and the public need to reconsider how to penalize and how to rehabilitate known users.