Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lance Armstrong quits Livestrong

As a cyclist who most years logged more kilometres on two wheels than on four, I've followed Lance Armstrong's career with great interest. Who, after all, could not be moved by the story of a man who beat cancer, became the world's dominant cyclist by winning its toughest event for seven years running, and created and led a foundation that's generated huge amounts of funding and, just as critically, support and inspiration for those whose lives have been touched by cancer?

He was always larger than life, a swaggering, focused force for the things we all hold near and dear. We wanted to believe. In his cause. In him.

Sadly, it's become nearly impossible to believe. While he had been dogged throughout his career by allegations of doping, he steadfastly denied them, saying he had never failed a test in his life. Earlier this year he decided to walk away from his appeal of a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency agency investigation, a move that led to his being stripped of his Tour de France titles.

Now, he's resigned as head of Livestrong, the organization he founded to help cancer survivors and fund research into a cure. He's still denying it all, but in the face of a huge trove of evidence released last week, it's clear this was far more than a few European riders ticked off at the American interloper. The allegations point toward a systematic process designed to fool the system and gain competitive advantage. It made doping the norm, not the exception, in a sport that's already endured more than its fair share of shame.

I still want to believe, of course. Because the Tour de France championships mean nothing. They're trophies, mere doodads awarded for crossing a line first. It's the folks who revolve around his foundation who concern me most. When you're diagnosed, you need all the inspiration you can get. You hold onto those icons of goodness, the heroes who've been there before and can show you the way now. You need to believe. In something. In someone.

Lance Armstrong, who was that someone for so many for so long, no longer is. Victims of cancer, their family members, their friends, and their support systems now have one less hero. And I'm sure they all, like me, wish otherwise.

Sure, he's human. And like the rest of us, he's flawed. Yet doping scandal and all, he's managed to create an organization that's raised massive amounts of money for cancer research, and awareness for the rest of us. A world without him would be far worse off.

As some among us revel in dragging the one-time do-no-wrong rider's name through the mud, I hope we'll instead focus on the elusive concept of balance. There's no excusing cheating in sport. Ever. But to a kid in a hospital wondering about what comes next, perhaps any hero, flawed and all, is preferable to none in the first place.


Mark said...

At a former place of employment, I refused to wear the Livestrong bracelet, just because there was something I didn't like about that bandwagon. This was about eight or nine years ago. After moving here in 2005, an acquaintance told me that his law firm was building a case against Armstrong. He said it was going to shock a lot of people. I guess he was right.

Shirley said...

I had no idea more information had been released. I had believed in his innocence and still believe in him as a person. Maybe less so as an athlete but he still attained so much in his career, including a comeback from cancer, and his phenomenal leadership with Livestrong will always be a testament unto itself. We all make mistakes but those in the public eye receive more ridicule when they fall from their pedestal that we put them on. To me and to countless others he remains an example of beating the odds, never giving up when faced with a life or death battle. To many, he remains a hero.

Unknown said...

I think we hate Armstrong for deceiving us, for cheating, for being less than we needed him to be, for relinquishing his hero status, and for making it harder for us to continue to donate to his cause.

I think we love him for the $500,000,000 he raised to help those that are most in need.... regardless of everything else.

Which emotion is stronger? I think we each need to answer that for ourselves.

Mark said...

Not that this makes his cheating any more or less "okay," but a report I heard on the radio Wednesday said that doping was very common, pretty much the norm, when Armstrong was winning. It was more unusual to find a rider who was not doping, according to the report.

daniel.c.acheson said...

Of all the cheaters anywhere, Lance has given more to others. It shows nobolity exists in the ignoble class. From an ethical perspective, I care less about an athlete that cheats to find a advantage amomg equals, than a businees elite who uses power and influence to obtain favourable taxation and laws, that results in untold harm to others. Lance is still a hero to me, just a lesser one.