Armstrong's foe says finding truth the No. 1 goal
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Even those who don't recognize his name will almost certainly know what Travis Tygart has been up to lately.
To put it simply, he's the man who's been making life difficult for Lance Armstrong.
Part teacher and part preacher for his cause, Tygart's official title is chief executive officer of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. His mission: Make sports a sanctuary for finding out which athlete is most talented and has worked the hardest, not who's the best cheater.
Most recently, that mission has led Tygart to spearhead the case that's ended Armstrong's cycling and triathlon careers.
As it turns out, the man who became Armstrong's greatest adversary is like him in some ways.
“I saw at an early age that working hard is how you become successful,” said Tygart, who grew up in Florida. “Playing sports as a kid, I learned all the valuable lessons that I think sports should teach.”
To his critics, he is a hatchet man who ran a witch hunt to settle an old score against Armstrong — a foe who eluded sanctions for more than a decade.
“This isn't about Tygart wanting to clean up cycling,” Armstrong wrote in a letter to The Associated Press, before USADA ordered his seven Tour de France titles stripped. “Rather it's just a plain ol' selective prosecution that reeks of vendetta.”
USADA was formed in 2000 as a way of taking drug cases that were decided by the U.S. Olympic Committee and placing them in the hands of a group that would be run independently. The agency is partially funded by the USOC and partially by the government. It runs on an annual budget of about $14 million.
Tygart has worked on every major doping case of the past decade, including the investigation into the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative, which resulted in the prosecution of Barry Bonds.
Among those caught in USADA's net over the years: 2006 Tour de France winner Floyd Landis; Olympic gold medalists Marion Jones and Justin Gatlin; cyclist Tyler Hamilton; all the players listed in the Mitchell Report, which documented doping in baseball and which was put together with Tygart's input. All have had their accomplishments stripped or brought into question.
Those who have known Tygart for years say the message doesn't change once the necktie comes off.
“Travis is passionate about sport,” said Rich Young, a partner at Bryan Cave LLP, who represents USADA as outside counsel and hired Tygart for that work in 2000. “He really gets the difference between true sport and circus.”
A native of Jacksonville, Fla., Tygart comes from a family well-respected in the Florida law community. After graduating with a philosophy degree from North Carolina, Tygart returned to Florida and taught high school government classes for three years, while also coaching baseball and basketball. From there, he went to Southern Methodist to get his law degree and begin the path toward becoming the single most powerful man in the U.S. anti-doping game.
Much has been made of death threats he received during the Armstrong investigation. Why does he keep on going?
“Because I've heard the stories from the athletes,” Tygart said. “I've heard them from the clean athletes who left their sport and felt personally robbed.”