Excuses won't mask the truth about Landis

Floyd Landis' gamut of excuses may have aroused a measure of doubt over his positive drug test at the Tour de France, but in the end, writes Mark Kreidler, no amount of spin will be able to hide the plain and obvious truth.

Updated: August 5, 2006, 1:28 PM ET
By Mark Kreidler | Special to ESPN.com

"I'm going to do my best to defend my dignity and my innocence."
-- Floyd Landis, on CNN.

Oh, sure, it looks like a set-up line now, but back when Landis uttered those words to Larry King, in the heady nostalgia of … well, of last week, Floyd and his "team" had yet to offer up the first in his growing line of explanations for testing red-hot on the Cheat-to-Win scale.

By the time the cyclist's sizzling "B" sample finally came back from the French lab on Saturday, the Landis dog-ate-my-exonerating-evidence excuse list had grown to at least four, each more fantastic than the last.

If it wasn't cortisone shots or thyroid medication, maybe it was beer and whiskey. If it wasn't Landis' natural ability to produce testosterone at, apparently, Clooney-esque levels, maybe it was a combination of dehydration and "maximum effort," as one of Landis' Spanish lawyers suggested hopefully Friday.

I'm no lab coat, but Landis' testosterone-to-epitestosterone level, which has an allowable ratio of up to 4:1 under WADA rules, reportedly came up at 11:1 in his July 20 test. Isn't that sort of like blowing a .22 on ye olde breathalyzer in a state with a .08 legal alcohol limit? That's some serious maximum effort.

Still, a grudging acknowledgement here. A grudging respect for a guy who absolutely won't give it up, a guy willing to grasp at any explanation available -- anything that gives Landis even one more day's reprieve from the full weight of a decided public opinion -- no matter how ludicrous it sounds or how laughably flimsy it proves to be.

I can't help it: There's a part of me that admires the audacity of it all.

Americans still go so big, don't they? They just do. Landis is part of this classic international sport and certainly a multinational cycling team, and yet in his time of crisis he reverts to pure Americana: He's barreling out of the chute with everything he's got.

He is seizing on everything, every little scrap of a possibility. It's just a wild fight for his name. And, significantly, Landis and his people are willing to assume that the U.S. citizenry is absolutely the most willfully ignorant group of sports fans on the face of the earth -- that maybe we'll buy the beer-and-whiskey explanation because, hell, why not? It isn't as though we haven't swallowed some whoppers before.

That much, of itself, is resolutely American. From Barry Bonds' flaxseed oil to Justin Gatlin's evil masseuse, we've had just about every possible explanation for cheating thrown our way. Don't think Landis' advisers aren't aware of how often it seems to work, even if only well enough to buy a little time.

I'm old school, in the sense that I've been writing about sports for more than 18 months and I actually report from time to time. My favorite drug-excuse memory dates to the Sydney Olympics in 2000, when shot-putter C.J. Hunter sat before a roomful of reporters alongside his then-wife, Marion Jones, and fought back tears as he said he couldn't explain how he had tested positive for steroids -- four times -- that summer.

His "nutritionist," though, had a very good idea. This heretofore unknown man, on hand for the news conference, explained that Hunter's iron supplements must have been spiked, which is how Hunter came to have in his system levels of the steroid nandrolone that were 1,000 times the allowable limit.

That nutritionist? Why, it was our good friend Victor Conte, who would go on to star in his own sports production, "BALCO, Barry and Me: The Destruction of a Superstar." In the end, the Hunter deal was a total fraud, a dog and pony show. But I'll tell you what: C.J. Hunter's tears that day looked real all the same.

They also planted at least a few seeds of doubt -- you know, sort of like just needing one juror to vote for acquittal -- and there was a lesson there, too. All these years later, Floyd Landis and his crew are chipping away at that same lesson.

Go for the tiny shards of doubt. In this case, seize upon the fact that the other Landis tests during the race -- Landis says there were eight of them -- all came back negative. You start down that road, and the doubt creeps in: Does it really make sense that Landis' readings suddenly would go flying off the chart in the middle of the Tour de France? Are we being held captive to the limits of what information Landis and WADA have made public? Is it simply a Landis smokescreen, or does he have a legitimate basis for challenging a single abnormal result?

No matter. To Landis and his folks, the important thing is that Americans, as a sports group, have become so immersed in the drug-excuse culture that nothing is going to strike them as too stupidly impossible to proffer as a semi-explanation of what, in the end, might have happened. And that's enough. That is where the possibility lies, the shadow of a doubt.

It lies in our willingness. We'll consider pretty much anything, evidently, which means anything is worth a shot. Maybe even a shot and a beer.

Mark Kreidler is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. You can reach him at mkreidler@sacbee.com.