“Two things scare me. The first is getting hurt. But that’s not nearly as scary as the second, which is losing.” In light of the revelations surrounding Lance Armstrong in recent weeks, these words from him now possess more significance than ever.
They depict a man who would do anything to distance himself from the possibility of failing. Indeed, the disclosures from the U.S Anti-Doping Agency’s report on 10th October prove exactly that: a U.S Postal Service team driven by a system of cheating, lying and bullying, with Armstrong as its key beneficiary, enjoyed years of success. Yes, Mr. Armstrong, it wasn’t ever about the bike was it?
The reaction has been diverse, with many expressing outright disbelief that such a sporting icon and cancer-defying peoples’ champion, is no longer just the unfair target of a witch-hunt that spans back to his first Tour de France victory in 1999. What is immediately clear though, is that the secure and substantial case that USADA has presented is sure to defeat those who previously rebuffed by simply denying it. Armstrong is put at the centre of the scandal with a charge sheet that consists of the use, possession, trafficking and administration of: erythropoietin (EPO), testosterone and/or corticosteroids as well as other performance-enhancing methods and equipment. Or, “the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen”, according to the report.
Perhaps what is most disturbing though, is that Armstrong wasn’t a naïve, helpless champion caught up amidst this corruption. Sworn confirmations from former team-mates (Christian Vande Velde, Michael Barry and Dave Zabriskie etc.) and extracts from USADA’s report, reveal Armstrong as the advocator and enforcer:
“The USPS Team doping conspiracy was professionally designed to groom and pressure athletes to use dangerous drugs, to evade detection, to ensure its secrecy and ultimately gain an unfair competitive advantage through superior doping practices.”
It not only questions his sportsmanship but also his human character and morality.
For some, it feels as if this one piece of this man’s incredible and complex life is being made into the legacy of Lance Armstrong. It would be wrong and insincere to overlook the $470 million that Livestrong have raised without almost solely crediting Lance Armstrong. His cycling victories gave the charity exposure, which enabled it to grow into what it is today: a foundation that has 1, 000 grassroots Livestrong Day events in 65 countries. But, the cycling victories that ensured the exposure that enabled Livestrong to grow were victories achieved by cheating, so, do the ends justify the means? Is that enough to make him “untouchable”?
For all of the money raised and events organized by his foundation, Armstrong’s greatest gift perhaps is the inspiration he has provided so many. Forget his victories in the cycling world once he returned and simply look at his biggest victory: he returned. However, due to committing such a huge crime against his sport, that reputation is now tarnished. It’s the paradox of him battling and subsequently conquering cancer and him doping, cheating and lying in order to win, that make it impossible for anyone not to feel disappointed, angered and deceived.
Such a shocking blow dealt by the very person who has been the sport’s poster boy for more than a decade perhaps couldn’t have come at a worst time for British cycling. Following the exploits of Sir Chris Hoy, Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and Victoria Pendleton, there is an unseen before urge to imitate our elite riders, (either competitively or casually) with membership of British Cycling doubling since 2008. For us in Britain, until recently, the stature of cycling was always defined by Lance Armstrong, but now we have our own cycling heroes to inspire us – we don’t have to look beyond Bradley Wiggins to see cycling being done successfully, correctly, and cleanly. Maybe then, with cycling being pushed into a new place in public life, we may see the survival of our cycling boom.
Is Lance Armstrong a hero or villain? It depends if you’re able to separate him from his successes in the sporting world and his philanthropic achievements. Surely though, the first guaranteed the latter, and he has shamed himself by committing such a great crime towards the sport that had made so many things possible for him. It is sad to think that I’ve now won the Tour de France as many times as the once great Lance Armstrong.
By Adam Venner