London – His seven Tour de France titles erased from cycling's record books, Lance Armstrong still holds claim to one piece of sports silverware: an Olympic medal.
But for how much longer?
Twelve years after Armstrong won bronze in the road time trial at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the IOC wants the medal back because of his involvement in a wide-reaching doping scandal.
The fate of Armstrong's medal will be addressed when the International Olympic Committee executive board meets next week in Lausanne, Switzerland.
The board could decide to strip the medal then and there, or wait another few weeks until cycling's governing body has officially notified Armstrong of the loss of his Tour titles.
IOC lawyers are studying whether the eight-year statute of limitations applies in this case, an issue that could push back a decision. But the IOC's resolve to revoke the medal and wipe Armstrong from the Olympic records is clear; the only issue is the timing and procedure.
“The board will consider this case,” IOC vice president Thomas Bach, a German lawyer who heads the body's doping investigations, told The Associated Press on Friday. “The board is following a zero-tolerance policy on doping.”
Craig Reedie, an IOC vice president from Britain, added: “We need to get this one behind us.”
The IOC opened a disciplinary case last month after a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report detailed widespread doping by Armstrong and his teammates. The report called it the most sophisticated doping program in sports.
The international cycling federation, the UCI, ratified USADA's decision to strip Armstrong of his seven Tour titles from 1995-2005 and ban him for life. WADA and the UCI annulled all of Armstrong's results since Aug. 1, 1998.
The IOC has an eight-year statute for changing Olympic results, but officials believe the decision by USADA and the cycling body to go back 14 years to disqualify Armstrong should clear the way for them to reach back to 2000.
“I would hope we can deal with it because the evidence (against Armstrong) is overwhelming,” Australian IOC executive board member John Coates told The Australian newspaper. “USADA and the UCI went outside the eight-year limit on the basis that the statute simply doesn't apply if you have broken the law, so I imagine our lawyer will see if that applies with us.”
Two months after winning his second Tour de France title in 2000, Armstrong took bronze in Sydney behind winner and U.S. Postal Service teammate Vyacheslav Ekimov of Russia and Jan Ullrich of Germany.
The IOC has no plans to reallocate Armstrong's bronze medal to any other rider, just as the UCI decided not to name any winners for the Tour de France titles once held by the American. That means Spanish rider Abraham Olano Manzano, who finished fourth in Sydney, would not be upgraded and the third-place spot would be left vacant in the Olympic records.
In August, the IOC stripped Tyler Hamilton, a former Armstrong teammate, of his time-trial gold medal from the 2004 Athens Olympics after he admitted to doping. In that case, Ekimov was upgraded to the gold.
In a bid to head off any legal disputes, the IOC had considered writing to Armstrong requesting that he give up the Sydney medal on his own. But the committee discarded that idea and is now pursuing its own disciplinary action.
The chances of Armstrong voluntarily returning the medal seem remote: He defiantly posted a photograph on Twitter last month showing him lying on a couch at his home in Texas with seven framed yellow Tour de France jerseys mounted on the wall.
The UCI, which initially questioned how USADA could skirt the eight-year rule, has not yet formally notified Armstrong of its ruling but is expected to do so in the coming days. After that, Armstrong would have 21 days to appeal. The IOC could wait until that period expires, then revoke his third-place finish on the grounds that Armstrong had accepted his disqualification and should send back the medal.
The IOC is also investigating Levi Leipheimer, a former Armstrong teammate who won the time-trial bronze at the 2008
Beijing Games. The American confessed to doping as part of his testimony against Armstrong in the USADA case.
The IOC is looking into the details of his admitted doping, including when the cheating took place, before moving to strip his medal. Finishing fourth behind Leipheimer in 2008 was Alberto Contador, the Spaniard who was stripped of the 2010 Tour de France title after testing positive for clenbuterol. – Sapa-AP