In a two-part interview conducted by Oprah Winfrey that aired in January of 2013, cyclist Lance Armstrong admitted to using United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) banned performance-enhancing drugs to win seven Tour de France cycling races. The scandal-stricken cyclist’s confession gripped the nation and was the climax of his storied but now sullied career.
Armstrong, 41, a survivor of metastasizing stage three testicular cancer, won the Tour de France seven consecutive times between the years 1999 and 2005, founded the celebrated “Livestrong” Foundation, and was the recipient of a seemingly limitless number of accolades in the cycling world and beyond.
Despite allegations of illicit performance-enhancing drug use, “doping,” throughout his career, Armstrong had always vehemently denied the allegations, many times heatedly and by litigating his opposition. Until now.
He entered his mea culpa plea with former daytime queen, Oprah, on her television channel, OWN. Once the poster child of triumph over debilitating disease, Armstrong has now been reduced to a “cheater” and “doper” as he lost the respect and adoration of his teammates, sponsors, and eventually, fans.
Even the Livestrong Foundation, Armstrong’s “sixth child,” severed ties with the blemished athlete, a move he called his “lowest” point.
Armstrong’s competitive wins dating from 1998 and onward were stripped by the USADA in August of 2012, including his seven Tour de France wins and bronze medal from the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. The agency also awarded Armstrong with a hefty lifetime ban from competitions. In record books, “No winner” is the phrase now etched in the slots for the 1999-2005 Tour de France races.
Armstrong did not officially dispute the charges lodged against him.
From part one of “Oprah and Lance Armstrong: The Worldwide Exclusive”
Oprah Winfrey (OW): “Did you ever take banned substances to enhance your cycling performance?”
Lance Armstrong (LA): “Yes.”
OW: “Was one of those banned substances EPO?”
OW: “Did you ever blood dope or use blood transfusions to enhance your cycling performance?”
OW: “Did you ever use any other banned substance such as testosterone, cortisone, or Human Growth Hormone?”
OW: “In all seven of your Tour de France victories, did you ever take banned substances or blood dope?”
OW: “Was it humanly possible to win the Tour de France without doping, seven times?”
LA: “Not in my opinion. That generation. I didn’t invent the culture, but I didn’t try to stop the culture.”
In the cycling profession and among his teammates, Armstrong was known to be a vindictive person. A former teammate on the U.S. Postal Service team, Christian Vande Velde, once revealed that Armstrong threatened to oust him from the team if he did not succumb to doping.
While Armstrong openly denied Vande Velde’s assertion, during the interview he did say, “We expected guys to be fit to be able to compete…If I [take performance-enhancing drugs] I’m leading by example, so that’s a problem…I was a bully. I was a bully in the sense that I tried to control the narrative and if I didn’t like what someone said, I turned on them.”
Armstrong admitted to his all-consuming “ruthless, win-at-all-costs attitude” which he claimed stemmed from his drive to survive his cancer diagnosis.
With the admittance of his rogue ways, Armstrong may have to face the legal ramifications of potential criminal and civil suits for crimes such as perjury, fraud, and/or slander.
Now, the big question remains: can and will the public ever forgive Lance Armstrong, the once celebrated athlete, in spite of his sham of a past? Will Armstrong, whose Livestrong Foundation raised more than $470 million for cancer research, ever make a phoenix-like ascension from the ashes of his tainted honors? Only time will tell.
But in a sport known for pervasive doping, did Armstrong commit the hypothetically lesser crime of leveling the playing field (as he mentioned in the interview)? Did coupling international success with being the face of an entire sport make Armstrong a measly scapegoat for the industry? Food for thought.
I am not at all suggesting that the avenues by which Armstrong took to garner titles, fame, and fortune were ethical and honest (in fact, I find his exploits to be inexcusable), I merely find that the Armstrong legacy (or lack thereof) should be a learning experience for those in the trade of professional sports.
Other games have had their fair share of performance-enhancing drug squalls, namely Major League Baseball. For only the seventh time in history, no players were elected to the 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame. Many speculate that the Baseball Writers Association of America failed to do so as a result of the steroid-scandal spoiled ballot that included names like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa.
When will the duplicity and fraud end? Will we ever be able to enjoy the honest sporting events of yesteryear? The games of our grandparents? Perhaps never again. It saddens me to see athletic pastimes riddled with cheating to win. But how to fix the dirty business? That question silences me, I have no viable suggestions.
For now, let us hope that Lance Armstrong remains a vestige and an unfortunate souvenir reminding athletes of the repercussions of deceit.
But perhaps I’m too optimistic.