Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lance Armstrong

Stories about doping in cycling have been so widespread for so long that they usually barely register as 'news', such is the level of global apathy towards cycling that the 'Tour De Cheats' has created.

Cycling has an almost incomparable history of cheating. Eddy Merckx a five time Tour champion and hero to many once said 'you don't win the Tour on bread and water'. Merckx rode in the 60s and 70s.

This had led to many cycling fans turning off their television sets. The Tour is the greatest endurance sport on the planet yet no one any longer believes what they see, any great performances immediately throwing up suspicions in the same way that wides and batting collapses now confound in cricket.

In sports, there have always been athletes such as Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan that transcend the sporting world and become global superstars, known to all. Lance Armstrong was and is one of those people.

Armstrong's story was utterly compelling, fighting back from near death from cancer was a story enough without winning seven Tours De France afterwards, it was amazing stuff and now it seems it was all too amazing.

The evidence that Armstrong was involved in and even led a systematic doping programme designed with the simple aim of delivering victories for himself is compelling. It was done with not a single thought for ethics, rules or even law and even now he shows no remorse.

Armstrong's defence is built around the simple premise that he has never failed a drugs test. Quite how this could possibly stand up to such an avalanche of detail, times, places, people, facts seems entirely implausible.

Quite why nearly every single cyclist or protagonist has owned up and made their peace - whether for their own ends or another reason - would do such a thing seems entirely at odds with Armstrong's statements also. Success always comes with people bearing grudges, but everyone?

Armstrong has always defended himself vociferously to anyone who would care to listen, he has always been a fighter whether it was cancer, cycling or anything else he cared to get involved with. For him to go to ground so meekly seems highly telling also, the case for the prosecution is so overwhelming, what else can he do?

Armstrong has of course crossed many lines with charges being suggested as strong as witness intimidation, perjury and even trafficking in controlled substances, criminal charges could be a very strong possibility never mind the prospect of being sued for countless prize money and performance related bonuses.

The man has of course done a huge amount of good, his Livestrong Foundation has raised countless millions for the fight against cancer and he has inspired many through his actions and his books. The question is now is what the motivation was for doing all this work? Was it genuine concern or was it simply to provide a distraction and a smoke screen to protect him from his real life's work, winning Tours at any cost?

It is a tragedy that two of the most dominant sportsmen of the previous decade, Tiger Woods and Armstrong have been exposed as frauds.

Whilst Woods' troubles have nothing to do with golf, there is little question that Tiger pedalled a myth about his being a family man to earn endorsements and cash in on his magnificent skills as a golfer. His public image was one of perfection, a golfing machine with the perfect home life off the course, everyone wanted to be Tiger Woods.

How wrong we were and even with a highly contrived public apology, Tiger has and never will fully recover from those events. The other players no longer fear him as they have seen him in reality to be as fallible as anyone. It was Tiger's mental strength more than any of his physical golfing attributes that set him apart. He had already beaten the other players before he teed off - Ernie Els admitted as much in his autobiography.

None of that of course makes any real difference in a sporting sense but on a personal level it does, Tiger is not the saint he painted himself to be and in Armstrong's case, the image of perfection has become utterly tainted given his exposure as a ruthless cheat and bully. This leads us back to the question of his motivation for all his charity work.

The other issue that Lance Armstrong has created is that whilst he has created hope for so many through his foundation, he has destroyed so much hope for many through his blatant cheating.

The problem is that cheating and in such an organised way taints your view of all sports. Athletics hit a new low when Ben Johnson was stripped of his gold medal in Seoul in 1988. The problems of the actions of the likes of Johnson, Armstrong, Marion Jones is that it kills sport for everyone else.

One hopes for instance that Usain Bolt is just a freak of nature, such an incredible physical specimen of huge proportions that his records are legitimate. But one cannot help having the nagging doubt that in a few years time we are set to be hugely disappointed when we find out otherwise. How many days, weeks and even months of Tour De France viewing over the years have been rendered entirely meaningless? Was any of it legitimate?

The Armstrong story will eventually fade from public view, the likes of Nike are even now standing by him referring to the amount of good that he done in his life. What no one knows is what his motivation was for this work outside of cycling.

And no one has yet counted the cost of what his doping actions have meant for up and coming professional cyclists, induced into his drugs culture, for would be future cyclists or athletes and for simple sports fans across the globe, shame on you Lance Armstrong - No Nonsense.