American Lance Armstrong could toe the starting line of a triathlon as early as August 27, 2016 according to the terms of his ban. His ban is up on the 24th of that month, but the 27th is the first Saturday following the ban's end-date.
Yes, Mr. Armstrong's ban is "lifetime," but his ban was levied according to the 2009 version of the WADA Code that included rule 10.10.1 that reads, in part, "An Athlete or other Person subject to a period of Ineligibility longer than four (4) years may, after completing four (4) years of the period of Ineligibility, participate in local sport events in a sport other than the sport in which the Athlete or other Person committed the anti-doping rule violation, but only so long as the local sport event is not at a level that could otherwise qualify such Athlete or other Person directly or indirectly to compete in (or accumulate points toward) a national championship or International Event."
Mr. Armstrong's "primary" sport is cycling, not triathlon. According to USADA's longtime spokesman Annie Skinner, "In Mr. Armstrong's case, this means he will have limited ability to participate in local sporting events, including triathlon."
What constitutes an "international event?" Ms. Skinner defined it this way: "Mr. Armstrong may not participate in an event that has the potential to qualify him to compete in (or accumulate points toward) a national championship, a world championship or an international event other than a world championship. In terms of what qualifies as an international event, this depends upon the specific sports rules. However, in general, events licensed, sanction or authorized by an international federation, including world championships, world cups and other such events qualify."
Asked about Ironman racing, she replied, "If you are interested in the WTC's International Event status, you will probably want to contact them directly to discuss WTC rules."
There's a gulf between "local" and "national or international" when one contemplates which bucket various races sit inside. Where does Escape to Alcatraz sit? Challenge Barcelona? Further, did the writers of this rule contemplate amateur or "age group" competition?
Certainly Ironman's races can all be considered out-of-bounds because they all afford pathways to Ironman's two World Championships, and as of today this is the stand Ironman is taking. Per its CEO Andrew Messick, "Our events are all international." In essence, while "all politics are local" no Ironman is. The ban on races Ironman produces or licenses will survive the August 24, 2016 date.
If any race that qualifies anyone for a national championship is "international" then every USAT-sanctioned race could be so-described, because they all conceivably could qualify somebody for the right to participate in an amateur national championship (ironically, by this description Mr. Armstrong could race as an elite in "local" USAT races but not as an age-group racer). This interpretation would defeat WADA's obvious desire to allow a banned athlete to complete in a "local" event.
The lack of specificity in WADA's rule means USADA's CEO, Travis Tygart, will probably be an important moving piece in what races are in-bounds for Mr. Armstrong. Ms. Skinner said that, "If, after having served the first 4 years of his sanction, Mr. Armstrong does wish to participate in a local sport event, at that time, USADA will consult with the appropriate sport or event organizer to ensure that it is not a violation under the WADA rules." In likely practice a race available to Mr. Armstrong is what USADA says it is.
Ironman Vichy 70.3 takes place on August 27 upcoming. Will Ironman change its interpretation if Mr. Tygart gives Ironman the assurance at least certain of its races fall outside the scope of Mr. Armstrong's lifetime ban? Would it make a difference if Mr. Armstrong decided to forego racing as a professional? (He'll be 45 years old as of August 24, 2016). Will he want to return to triathlon at all? If so, will he even want to race Ironman, or is he more likely to move toward smaller, scenic bucket list events like Norseman, Celtman, Inferno Tri, Savageman? What would the posture of these organizations be toward his participation in their events? Messers Armstrong and Tygart, along with the affected race organizers, have 9 months to figure all this out.