Marcel Kittel takes lie detector test to try and prove he's not doping

Sprinter only one of 20 invited German riders to step up.

by John Stevenson   August 15, 2013  

Polygraph (CC license by by United States Forces - Iraq)

Marcel Kittel, the German sprinter who exploded to prominence when he won the opening stage of this year’s Tour de France, has undergone a lie detector test in an attempt to ‘prove’ that he is not doping.

Germany’s Bild magazine challenged 20 German Tour riders, from teams such as the former Gerolsteiner, Milram, and T-Mobile squads, to submit to polygraph testing to demonstrate they were not doping.

Only Kittel stepped up.

Marcel Kittel after winning Stage 1 of the 2013 Tour of Oman (picture courtesy Tour of Oman)
Marcel Kittel after winning Stage 1 of the 2013 Tour of Oman (picture courtesy Tour of Oman)

The 25-year-old has insisted he is part of a new, clean generation of racers. Toward the end of last year, he took to Twitter to lambast those who defended Lance Armstrong.

"I feel SICK when I read that Contador, Sanchez & Indurain still support Armstrong. How does someone want to be credible by saying that?!" he tweeted.

"It makes it all worse. They should play their false game somewhere else."

A polygraph is actually a collection of instruments that measure physiological indicators such as blood pressure, pulse, respiration, and skin conductivity. A questioner asks neutral questions such as the subject's name, and irrelevant questions they are likely to lie about such as "Have you ever told a lie?" to establish baseline readings, then asks a mixture of relevant and control questions.

Kittel was put through the polygraph process by forensic psychologist Holger Leutz who concluded that Kittel was speaking the truth.

“The things we have monitored during the interview were very evenly measured,” said Leutz. “That is a sign of credibility. Kittel makes us believe in a pure generation of cyclists. I dare say in response to what the detector indicates that Marcel Kittel has never used doping and is a clean athlete.”

“I have nothing to hide, so I decided to take the test,” Kittel told Bild. “I stand for clean sport, and the test proves it.”

Polygraph reliability

Or does it? Unfortunately, the history of the polygraph is strewn with failure. In his book, The Secret Race, Tyler Hamilton wrote:

I learned that if you’re vague enough, you don’t have to lie. I said things like “I’ve always been a hard worker,” and “I’ve been at the top consistently for ten years,” and “I’ve tested clean dozens of times,” and so on. I learned that if you repeat something often enough, you begin to believe it. I even took a lie-detector test to help prove my innocence, and passed. (Though, just before taking it, we Googled a few tips for beating the test. Clenching your buttocks, I remember, was one.)

In more serious cases, double-agent Aldrich Ames passed two polygraph tests while spying for the Soviet Union, and serial killer Gary Ridgway passed a polygraph in 1984, only confessing almost 20 years later when confronted with DNA evidence.

As a result, polygraph tests are inadmissible as evidence in criminal cases in most jurisdictions, though they may still be used during investigations to fool or intimidate suspects into confessing.

Germany is one of the countries that absolutely forbids the use of polygraph evidence in criminal trials.

Experience in lying seems to be the biggest factor in beating a polygraph, as Hamilton implies. In 1978, Richard Helms, former director of the CIA, said: “Americans are not very good at [fooling the polygraph], because we are raised to tell the truth and when we lie it is easy to tell we are lying. But we find a lot of Europeans and Asiatics can handle that polygraph without a blip, and you know they are lying and you have evidence that they are lying."

17 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

Doesn't matter if it's credible, what matters is that he wasn't afraid to do it. Doper wouldn't do it even if it wasn't 100% reliable.

ricolek's picture

posted by ricolek [38 posts]
15th August 2013 - 14:51

like this
Like (2)

Not sure I would have stepped forward. If polygraphs are notoriously unreliable then can they produce false positives as well? Looks like he stands to lose a lot more than he stands to gain.

posted by qwerky [134 posts]
15th August 2013 - 14:57

like this
Like (2)

Polygraph is rubbish. And that statement from Richard Helms, former CIA director, is just plain racist!

two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1339 posts]
15th August 2013 - 15:10

like this
Like (1)

ricolek wrote:
Doesn't matter if it's credible, what matters is that he wasn't afraid to do it. Doper wouldn't do it even if it wasn't 100% reliable.

A doper like Tyler Hamilton?

posted by DrJDog [108 posts]
15th August 2013 - 15:11

like this
Like (3)

qwerky wrote:
If polygraphs are notoriously unreliable then can they produce false positives as well?

Yes, they can. If you do a bit of googling you find plenty of examples.

Basically, polygraph is theatre that sometimes gets naive subjects to confess, but is comedically easy for experienced liars to beat.

John Stevenson's picture

posted by John Stevenson [1024 posts]
15th August 2013 - 15:14

like this
Like (3)

The funny quote of the day

"Americans are not very good at [fooling the polygraph], because we are raised to tell the truth"

posted by vasgko2 [21 posts]
15th August 2013 - 15:59

like this
Like (2)

This is kind of stupid, and disappointing that Kittel has chosen to take part to be honest. It's one of those "if you don't do it then you MUST have something to hide" arguments, ignoring the notorious unreliability of polygraph testing.

The simple fact that polygraphs are not admissible as evidence in UK courts, but taken as absolute and incontrovertible evidence on the Jeremy Kyle show should tell you everything you need to know

posted by jijiandnoah [53 posts]
15th August 2013 - 17:23

like this
Like (3)

Where is Asiatica? Does it has a border with Hispanistan? Americans have some funny ideas about race.


Leviathan of Riderstate

bikeboy76's picture

posted by bikeboy76 [1252 posts]
15th August 2013 - 18:49

like this
Like (3)

back to kissing your flag helms you daft prick

posted by beej.a [40 posts]
16th August 2013 - 2:07

like this
Like (3)

Oh joy. We've got to the stage where an athlete can't be believed to be clean based on in-comp testing, out-of-comp testing and the blood passport, but it's ok, because he indulged a newspaper with some bullsh*t hokum so NOW we think he's clean? What's next, a ouija board?! Psychic's holding a lock of his hair to locate the nearest EPO?!

(I do think he's clean, but IMHO this circus does nothing for for the credibility of him or the sport)

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3108 posts]
16th August 2013 - 10:25

like this
Like (3)

The more I hear from Marcel Kittel the more I like the guy.

Long may him and Cav enjoy a decent rivalry (once Cav has a team that's got a clue what the hell they're doing in the last 1km that is).

posted by racingcondor [109 posts]
16th August 2013 - 12:20

like this
Like (3)

Penn and Teller did a show on lie detectors and how to beat them. You wouldn't think Marcel has seen this and tried it out if he was dirty? http://youtu.be/bScv6kfxRyE?t=6m29s

posted by TeamCC [146 posts]
16th August 2013 - 14:02

like this
Like (4)

Well cycling is scraping the bottom of the barrel if it thinks lie detector tests are proof of a clean rider.

Kittel is an idiot for doing it. He should have called for independent anti doping rather than taking a test that is a waste of time and a joke.

posted by Decster [246 posts]
16th August 2013 - 15:49

like this
Like (2)

Wow, that quote from the CIA spook is absolutely classic! Devil

posted by jackh [105 posts]
16th August 2013 - 17:38

like this
Like (3)

I read that Richard Helms was the only Director of the CIA ever convicted of lying to Congress. Who said Americans don't do irony?

posted by The Rumpo Kid [590 posts]
16th August 2013 - 17:44

like this
Like (1)

The Rumpo Kid wrote:
I read that Richard Helms was the only Director of the CIA ever convicted of lying to Congress. Who said Americans don't do irony?

Brilliant!

(Or are you lying?!) Big Grin

posted by Jimbonic [107 posts]
17th August 2013 - 10:29

like this
Like (4)

Great article. I read the headline about Kittel on CyclingNews and immediately wondered why it isn't used by the UCI. Seems quite obvious now.

posted by Froome's Thoughts [1 posts]
18th August 2013 - 20:12

like this
Like (3)