This is art. Photo: Christine Rondeau/Flickr
Last year, Jim Armstrong, a member of the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame and a gold medalist as skip (you should know this by now, but that means he’s the best and he goes last) of Canada’s 2010 Paralympic team, was suspended for 18 months after failing a drug test in December 2011. The drug: tamoxifen, which is used to treat breast cancer but also used as an estrogen-blocker that can counteract the hormone-surges brought on by steroid use.
But: Armstrong’s wife, to whom he had been married for 29 years, died in September of 2009 from breast cancer. Armstrong’s argument, then, was that he mistook his wife’s leftover pills for aspirin, popped a couple to prevent against a heart attack, and then: positive test. Which would be a simple-enough (if also a commonly-used) defense, but we’re talking about PEDs and things are never simple when everyone’s a possible-cheater, even in wheelchair curling.
So, in the anything-can-mean-anything way of searching for clues to things we’ll never be able to figure out for sure (read: most positive drug tests), Armstrong had gone through multiple knee surgeries on both knees (He needed to be stronger!), he is a former dentist (He should know better!), and he was arrested and fined $30,000 for smuggling fake Chinese Viagra and Cialis across the Canadian border with his son, who then sold them in nightclubs (Character issues!). And Armstrong is now basically a walking doping poster if you want him to be.
Except he is a guy who can’t walk and sits in a wheelchair and slides across ice, pushing rocks for fun and whatever minimal monetary value that comes along with doing that well. Yet, anything can be improved—walking-a-cat proficiency, dart-throwing, speed-reading, whatever—and many things can be improved by putting other things into your body. As Deadspin-dot-com’s Barry Petchesky put it:
There's every reason for a curler, even a wheelchair curler, to use performance enhancing drugs. While curling doesn't rely on brute strength, it does require stamina for the sweepers and muscle control for the thrower. The bigger and stronger the muscles, the easier it is to put the stone just so.
Which gets back to the general questions that should be asked with every doping “scandal” that doesn’t involve a sociopath riding a bike down a legal warpath trying to destroy everything and everyone who’s trying to tell the truth. And those questions are: why is the line drawn here (why is this substance not cool, but these 10 others are OK?) and should we even care? The second of which then gets into all kinds of icky personal worldview-type stuff and the projecting of values onto another, living person—which is fine, if you are named "God."
After the ban was handed down, Armstrong filed an appeal. This past September the Court of Arbitration for Sport repealed Armstrong’s ban, and he’s now eligible to start competing and training for a spot on the 2014 Paralympic team in Sochi. None of this actually says anything about Armstrong—he’s a dude, maybe good, maybe not, and just generally human—other than: he is a world-class wheelchair curler, who (probably) accidentally took a banned substance, which is a sporting-equivalent of “nothing.” His first name isn’t Lance, though, and at this point, that’s pretty cool.