Friday, 9 September 2011

Don't assume Longo guilt

Longo has competed in seven
Olympic Games
Jeannie Longo, the legendary French champion who at the age of 52 frequently competes against cyclists not even born when she first rode in the Olympic Games, is in trouble following three questionable incidents around doping control in the last year.

According to the Fédération Française de Cyclisme, Longo twice gave insufficient details as to her whereabouts this year and missed one test entirely in June when anti-doping officials arrived at a hotel at which she had listed herself as staying, but the Haute-Savoie cyclist was not there and could not be contacted - however, Longo, known for living a somewhat unusual lifestyle, famously does not own either a computer or a mobile telephone.

Chances are there'll be those who say that since Longo comes from a different generation of cyclists - not just the one that came before today's, but the one before that - she deserves to be cut some slack. After all, for much of her career doping was so prevalent in the sport that it was virtually accepted and, often, hardly even hidden. We don't think that should be the case. Much as we admire Longo, who has been World Champion 13 times and French Champion an incredible 59 times, cycling is always more important than one cyclist and, now that it's clawed its way back to something approaching respectability after a series of high-profile scandals saw all-important sponsors leaving in droves for fear of being associated with drugs and in doing so almost killing the sport, even a personality as towering as Longo must be barred from competition if she can be shown to be guilty of doping.

However, Longo is not as other cyclists. Her case shows why automatic suspension - she could be barred from anything between three months to two years, a longer ban likely ending her career - is proof that one rule cannot be applied to all cyclists. It may work for the vast majority, who have grown up with portable computers, mobile phones, wi-fi and 24 hour access to the Internet, but it doesn't work for the semi-reclusive Longo and in her case failure to attend doping control should not automatically be seen as suspicious.

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