Of the athletes who have fallen from grace over the past several years, the Lance Armstrong story may be the most painful.
Armstrong, more than any other competitor, put bicycling on the map for thousands of Americans by winning seven consecutive Tour de France titles starting in 1999.
The biggest part of the mystique that was Lance Armstrong was his recovery from cancer. Diagnosed with testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs, abdomen and brain in 1996, he was given, at best, a 40 percent chance of survival. But he endured the chemotherapy and brain surgery to beat the disease and be declared cancer-free in early 1997.
That he could come out ahead against such odds, let alone complete in the demanding sport of bicycle racing, was an inspiration, particularly for those who had their own health battles against cancer and other diseases. He also founded the Lance Armstrong Foundation — now Livestrong — in 1997, an organization that raises money for support and education of cancer patients. In 2004, the yellow Livestrong gel bracelets — the color matches the jerseys of Tour de France winners — were launched, generating funds for the foundation and creating a trend for similar gel bracelets for numerous other causes.
Given his brush with death and dedication to cycling, the idea that Armstrong would introduce banned substances into his body was difficult to believe, even as accusations and evidence mounted over the years. Here was an athlete who was a role model and inspiration, one who went to great lengths to protect his reputation.
But, as with other big-name athletes whose roster is ever expanding, it became clear, particularly late in 2012, that Armstrong was not all that he had appeared to be. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency charged him last summer with using performance enhancing drugs such as anabolic steroids and human growth hormone and with blood transfusions. USADA accused Armstrong of lying and cheating, saying he masterminded the “most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.” It issued a lifetime ban against his participation in sports that follow the World Anti Doping Agency code. Cycling’s governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale, accepted the USADA’s decision in October.
Armstrong did not appeal the ruling, which led to his being stripped of his seven Tour titles. He also resigned from his position with Livestrong last fall.
Now, reports have surfaced that Armstrong apologized to those who work at Livestrong on Monday before taping an interview with Oprah Winfrey that will be televised on her OWN network Thursday. How much Armstrong admits to and exactly what he admits to in the 150-minute session with Winfrey isn’t known, but Winfrey on Tuesday confirmed reports that a confession of some sort was made.
Our guess is it won’t be the all-encompassing confession that many are expecting, hoping for or demanding. Armstrong, who was ruthless in his denial of doping allegations over the years, likely has legal reasons for being careful what he admits to, from a $500,000 libel settlement he won from the Sunday Times of London that the newspaper wants to get back to his former teammate Floyd Landis’ whistleblower lawsuit against him to millions of dollars in endorsement and sponsorship money that the U.S. Postal Service and other organizations want returned now that his reputation is tarnished.
The real victim here is not Armstrong. Whatever he did, he made calculated decisions and now he has to live with the consequences. The victims are those who looked up to him and used his life story as inspiration. When inspiration becomes hidden by the dark shadow of ambition, disappointment invariably follows.