Ironman option for disgraced Lance Armstrong
Ironman events in New Zealand are on Lance Armstrong's radar as the biggest liar in world sport desperately tries to find a way to return to top-flight international sport.
And triathlon officials say they would welcome Armstrong into their sport if his lifetime ban is reduced following his Oprah Winfrey confessional.
In Auckland for today's 70-3 international event, World Ironman CEO Andrew Messick said that until the US Anti-Doping Agency or its world authority (Wada) removed or reduced that ban, Armstrong could not compete.
"(But) should his sanctions be reduced or lifted, then we would envision treating Lance like any other athlete who is eligible to compete," Messick said.
Armstrong tried to compete in a triathlon in Rotorua 2011, a year after he retired from pro cycling after racing in his last Tour de France, but withdrew at the last moment without explanation.
New Zealand hosts a number of major international Ironman events, notably the annual Taupo full-distance event. Armstrong has said his decision to confess to drug use is because he wants to race international Ironman events.
That shows the man's ego. He is willing to confess he is a doper, suffer the public shame and risk the legal repercussions of that - just so he can compete again. He seems to miss winning that badly that he wants to take on the best Ironman triathletes in the world. He still wants to prove people wrong and that he is the best. Even if he was clean. Incredibly, he may actually be able to live up to such a boast.
Messick says that, until he was suspended, Armstrong believed that he was going to be Ironman world champion last year.
"He was world-class," Messick said.
"He was winning races. He went out and set course records. Lance's intention was to qualify for the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii and he believed that not only would he qualify, but that he would win.
"I don't know whether he'd have been right, but there were a lot of people in our sport who were looking forward to finding out."
That pedigree has been endorsed by Armstrong's training
partners in Texas who include American Olympians and world class triathletes and swimmers.
"We'd do hard runs and pound each other to a pulp," said American triathlete star Kelly Williamson, whose husband has won Ironman events at state level."Without a doubt, he'd have been very good at Ironman." World champion? "Potentially, yes."
Time is Armstrong's enemy. At best he can hope for a reduction to a four-year ban but that would make him 45 before he could compete again. To win the Ironman world title at that age seems impossible.
Kiwi Olympic silver medallist Bevan Docherty, who now competes in Ironman races, hopes Armstrong will never get his chance.
Docherty has already encountered the steely, win-at-all-costs Armstrong attitude after the American refused to shake his hand after finishing second to him at the Panama Ironman last year.
"I always knew he was on drugs. It's no surprise to me. I can't help but think there's more to [the confession] than being honest and regretful. I think he's getting paid a hell of a lot," said Docherty last week.
"I think he should dig a hole and crawl into it and disappear."
So does the rest of the world. Only Lance Armstrong isn't listening.