WASHINGTON (AFP) — Travis T. Tygart has never won Olympic gold or the Tour de France, but in 10 years with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), he has done his best to ensure no dope cheats win them either.
Not even Lance Armstrong.
Despite three death threats and Armstrong’s accusations of a vendetta and witch hunt, Tygart guided a staff that compiled 1,000 pages of evidence and testimony from 26 witnesses, 11 of them former teammates, to bring down the cycling icon.
“We focused solely on finding the truth without being influenced by celebrity or non-celebrity, threats, personal attacks or political pressure because that is what clean athletes deserve and demand,” Tygart said.
Tygart directed USADA legal affairs and served as general counsel before taking over as its chief executive officer five years ago, having helped unearth dope cheats from the BALCO steroid scandal.
The 41-year-old American, a father of three with a philosophy degree from the University of North Carolina and a law degree from Southern Methodist University, played on Florida state high school championship teams in basketball and baseball, and was a teammate of Major League Baseball standout Chipper Jones of Atlanta.
“The lessons of sport and what I learned growing up in Jacksonville, those are the things that get you through tough times like this,” Tygart told his hometown newspaper, the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville.
“What I learned from BALCO is athletes and their enablers will go to great lengths to ensure they’re not ultimately held accountable.”
Tygart spent years on the front lines of USADA’s arbitration appeal system, a method that withstood a U.S. federal court challenge from Armstrong as well as threats from some U.S. lawmakers with an eye toward the agency’s taxpayer funding.
“Clean athletes appreciate us not bowing to political pressure or the personal attacks. If we’re going to cave to attacks by those attempting to cover up their sporting fraud, we might as well shut down,” Tygart told the newspaper.
“That would mean we’re afraid and don’t have the courage to support clean athletes. You have to endure those attacks. We just do our job based on the evidence we have.”
Armstrong decided in August not to challenge USADA’s charges against him, denying any wrongdoing, so USADA imposed a life ban and stripped him of his seven consecutive Tour de France titles from 1999-2005.
USADA went public with its evidence earlier this month as it submitted a report to the Union Cycliste International (UCI). Since then sponsors have distanced themselves from Armstrong, who stepped down as chairman of the Livestrong anti-cancer charity.
Armstrong is far from the first U.S. sports star to be undone by USADA.
Floyd Landis, the 2006 Tour de France winner, and Olympic champions Marion Jones and Justin Gatlin were among those stripped of their titles as a result of USADA investigations under Tygart’s direction.
Jones admitted wrongdoing despite never testing positive, a situation that hit at the heart of the viability of doping tests as the only manner to catch cheaters even as Armstrong noted his own supposed lack of a positive doping test.
Tygart recalled to the Times-Union how Landis told him after being greeted by a supporter that he could not live with being a fraud, eventually confessing his doping after years of denial.
“That’s what you hear from athletes,” Tygart said. “A lot of them never wanted to cheat, but they’re put in a culture where they feel it’s the only way they can win.
“All that matters here is the truth prevailed. For clean athletes that’s the right outcome. It’s sad it came to this, but it’s good that it was revealed.”
Tygart added that he would advise Armstrong to apologize to those he hurt.
“That could be a much better legacy for the sport than anything any of these riders ever did on a bike,” he added.
Editor’s note: Read the entire story at the Florida Times-Union.