Complex ride of fallen legend
Two words best sum up the tangled saga of Lance Armstrong.
Armstrong, the latest tragic hero to emerge from the frequently soiled field of sport, represents the most divisive case yet. Equal parts fraud, inspiration, liar, mentor, bully and philanthropist, the world-class and record-breaking cyclist’s exploits on and off the road beg the age-old question about whether the end accomplishment justifies the ragged and often sorry path traveled to get there.
Like we said, it’s complicated.
Armstrong, the wiry Texan, finally, apparently, came clean this week to talk show host and media entrepreneur Oprah Winfrey about his years of using performance-enhancing drugs, which helped propel him to an unprecedented seven Tour de France championships and an almost mythic place in international sport. He did so after years of denials in the faces of his bitter rivals — many of whom were also drug cheats. He did so while also undertaking campaigns to smear and destroy those who attempted to bring evidence of his activities to light.
But he also did so after fearsome battle with testicular cancer, an event that sparked his creation of a charity known as Livestrong that has helped thousands upon thousands of those inflicted with the horrid disease. The ubiquitous yellow bracelets have become symbols of that fight, something that has inspired millions in America and elsewhere to take arms against cancer. Livestrong has raised millions in money that otherwise would not be available in the war on cancer.
All the while, Armstrong himself become a mighty symbol of overcoming seemingly impossible odds and achieving extraordinary things.
But last year his denials began to fray. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency issued a 1,000-page report that went far beyond merely accusing Armstrong of doping to improve his cycling ability. He was also cited as the mastermind behind a scheme that involved members of the U.S. Postal Service team he headed. Critics called it sports doping on a professional level.
As a result, Armstrong was stripped of his Tour de France titles and left his Livestrong foundation.
On Monday, before Armstrong’s two-and-a-half hour interview with Winfrey, he met with Livestrong staff members and offered a tearful apology. He also urged them to continue helping cancer patients and their families.
The personal cost to Armstrong has been high. His lucrative endorsements have mostly dried up. He’s also banned from competing in the elite triathlon or running events he participated in after his cycling career. And the ego it takes to become a world-class athlete has to have suffered a major blow.
Still, unlike those tainted by professiospeanal baseball’s steroid era, Armstrong does leave behind a larger and more admirable legacy. What he has meant to cancer survivors and the families who support those in so much agony can’t be estimated. It’s a value far beyond numbers posted in a sports record book that one day will be broken by someone else.
So what, finally, to make of Lance Armstrong? He is everything his critics say he is. But he is also in some ways the hero his supporters believe him to be as well.
— From the New Bern Sun Journal
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