Mike Solberg: Mr. Hiltzik, the arbitrators have the ability to ignore procedural mistakes, or even significant mistakes, if USADA can show they didn't affect the outcome. Do you have any impression of where the arbs might draw the line that something was significant enough to dismiss the case?
Thomas A. Fine: Landaluze had a slam-dunk issue: a clear cut violation of a rule that was considered important.
Michael Hiltzik: Thanks for your question, strbuk, and thanks to all for joining us. On reading the Landaluze decision, I thought there were pluses and minuses for Landis. On the one hand, the arbitrators rejected most of Landaluze's arguments, many of which paralleled Landis' claims. On the other, they did throw out the case based on the Paris lab's flawed procedures. And they certainly created, or reinforced, the precedent that having one technician handle both an A and B sample was grounds for dismissal.
Old Runner Guy: Michael, do you think the labeling errors are significant? Also, did the incorrect labels on Floyd's sample match any other samples in the lab?
dave: What, exactly, does Floyd Landis have to do to exonerate himself of the doping charges?
ChrisT: Does anybody really think Landis is innocent? All he is doing is trying to get off on technicalities. It's the same stuff Hamilton tried and it makes me sick.
Michael Hiltzik: Mike S: What's important about the procedural mistake issue is that if an athlete can show there was a procedural mistake, the burden shifts to the prosecution to prove that it DIDN'T affect the outcome., The arbs in Landaluze offered that opportunity to the Paris lab, and they wrote that the Paris lab failed to meet it -- therefore, goodbye case.
Michael Hiltzik: Tom: That seems to be true; the arbs found the rule to be explicit and crystal clear.
Michael Hiltzik: Old Runner: The significance of the labeling errors will be up to the arbs to judge. I haven't asked Landis' people directly about this, but it seems to me that it wouldn't be the best outcome for them if the arbs threw out his case on just one or another of these procedural issues. What they're hoping for -- and I'm drawing this from their papers -- is that the arbs see the labeling issues, and the two-technician problem, and all the other flaws they claim as parts of a whole, and eventually conclude that the lab work is so shot through with inconsistencies and unanswered questions that the case shouldn't have been brought.
thinnmann: Michael, please tell ChrisT that this is way beyond "technicalities", and I was wondering if you were a cyclist yourself.
Michael Hiltzik: Dave, There are two issues in your question -- what does he have to prove to the arbitrators, and what does he have to prove to the public. If he can show the arbs that the lab departed significantly from standard operating procedure, or that its own findings fall short of WADA requirements, they would have grounds to overturn the charge. Whether this would satisfy the public depends on the arbs' specific findings (assuming, of course, that they do overturn the case).
BetweenRides: Michael, what is your opinion on the whole Wikipedia defense? Has the posting of case information by the Landis team helped his cause or is it just making the AD authorities just dig in their heels?
Michael Hiltzik: Chris, I'm glad you brought up the "technicality" issue, because I know it's been debated quite intensely -- indeed, I believe Dick Pound, the WADA chief, claims that Landaluze got off on a technicality. But you have to keep in mind that these are "technical" cases. They're dependent on lab technique, and testing technology, and scientific protocol, all of which are designed to ensure that the ultimate results are viewed as valid. If the chain breaks at any point, that undermines confidence in the whole process. I'd add, incidentally, that plenty of athletes have been sanctioned on the basis of "technicalities" -- concentrations of nandolone, for example, that are a few parts per billion over the allowable threshhold when those concentrations are known not to affect performance and when deliberate doping would yield concentrations tens of thousands of parts per billion over the threshhold.
Michael Hiltzik: As for whether I am a cyclist myself, I was many, many years ago, but never competitively.
JonT: In your view have there been any inarguable procedural errors that would invalidate the AAF. Contamination, for example.
Thomas A. Fine: Is there something that anyone here could imagine would get him off, that would NOT be considered a technicality?
Michael Hiltzik: I've written at length on the wikipedia defense, which is Landis' posting of his documents and his defense online. I think it is, in its way, brilliant. One of the main problems athletes have had in defending themselves in anti-doping cases is the dearth of independent experts. That's because the most experienced doping scientists tend to be employed by WADA labs, and under WADA rules they can't work for an athlete's defense. The wikipedia defense in effect drafts thousands of qualified experts in cyberspace to review the case, and I have no doubt that Landis' defense has profited from the analysis done online, some of it by people who are participating in this very chat.
dave: Thanks, Tom. Michael's definition seemed to be pretty broad. While the analytical chemistry involved in testing is 'technical', the Landaluze decision was a legal/procedural technicality. Colloquial reference to 'technicalities' would be interepreted as legal technicalities, would it not?