The news was fully explained to me this morning and frankly, I was in shock. Not so much by what has happened but of how.
2010 Paralympic champion skip Jim Armstrong was not, as we all know, leading Team Canada at this year’s 2012 World Wheelchair Curling Championship in South Korea.
The question has always been – why?
We know that the Calgary Herald released the story prior to us, prior to the offical WCF annoucement with documents (found here) and prior to the CCA response announcements. However in an exclusive interview with Wheelchair Curling Blog 2, Armstrong has explained his story in greater detail.
In fact, Armstrong approached us, as he felt the need for a non-biased forum. A story which ultimately will affect both the Canadian program and, of course, himself personally.
The remains of a tragic story are the root of Jim’s current dilemma. In December of last year, as required by WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) and the WCF (World Curling Federation), all national team athletes are required to submit to drug testing, including random testing. As a high-profile competitor, Jim was often called upon to submit to the doping police. On an average day in December, Jim submitted his samples to CCES (Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport) for testing, and thought nothing of the routine submission.
In January, a call came to Jim, informing him of the news: a violation.
I can just imagine the look on Jim’s face when he was told he had failed the test, but more shocking when he heard the name of the substance that had raised the red flag. No, it was not cocaine, which able-bodied curler Joe Frans was caught with a few years ago. Nor was it steroids – Lord knows, Armstrong does not need steroids.
And now, let us all say what we’re all thinking – what the heck?
This was my reaction, of course, and then it hit me: Jim’s tragic loss of his long-time love Carleen, his wife of 29 years, who died in September of 2009. She had battled cancer since 2006.
See the fit?
According to Jim, his medications come in 3 month batches with some bottles large which make it near impossible for travel. He inadvertently used a smaller old medication bottle which had been contaminated with one of Carleen’s cancer medications.
Has Armstrong claimed foul? No.
Has he tried to skirt the results? No.
In Jim’s words, a mistake occurred, and it seems a rather obvious mistake – the man, after all, ingested a female-based cancer treatment drug. But this error is now costing Armstrong part of the foundation of a new life he has been trying to rebuild. Moreover, this mistake has cost a curling-crazed country.
Jim states: " I know I really hurt the Team and the Program, and will be making an appeal as soon as practicable."
So what does this all mean?
Right now it means immediate suspension and 18 months is the fact of what Jim – and the Canadian wheelchair curling program – now faces.
The World Curling Federation (WCF) has handed down and enforced the 18-month decision which means that Armstrong, in no way, shape or form, may curl or coach curling until July of 2013.Naturally, Armstrong is appealing the decision to which the details are still unfolding.
What are the best- and worse-case outcomes?
The best is easy: the CAS (The Court of Arbitration for Sport) hears Jim’s explanation and understands it, and decides to remove or reduces the suspension.
The worst is that the appeal is denied in full, everything stays in place and all of a sudden Canada is has to figure out how to rebuild a national team, with the next worlds less than a year away.What will probably happen, based on my experience with WADA, CCES and the CAS, is a reduction of the suspension to somewhere between six and 12 months based on a precedent set ruling for Glen Ikonen of Sweden, when he had a violation for blood pressure medication that occurred at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Games.
What does this means for Jim Armstrong?
Well, it gives him some down time; specifically, time to experience a life without curling (again). Will he lose his on-ice touch, or even his knowledge? Absolutely not, and when (or if) he wants to come back, he should perform better than ever.
Now, as for the program??
I’m sure that Armstrong will have something to say about direction and future. I, for one, cannot see the new/interim skip not working with Armstrong in some type of advisory capacity. It make sense to have the replacement skip start working with Armstrong as soon as possible and then, in 2014, have him or her play third for Armstrong in Sochi.
Post- 2014, Armstrong is still going to be the most experienced and knowledgeable wheelchair curler who can lead the pack on the ice, or step into a coaching role, and/or be a talent scout, and so on.
The next question, of course, is where to find the replacement skip?
Does the CCA vault a current national program member into that position?
Do they grab an up and comer?
Do they look to the past, and grab a former national team member?
The CCA has some interesting choices to consider and decisions to make, and Wheelchair Curling Blog 2 will follow the details as the story develops... and it will develop.