Commentary: Will the real Lance Armstrong please stand up?
Published: Friday, January 18, 2013
Updated: Friday, January 18, 2013 16:01
That’s how you summarize the disappointment of something being too good to be true.
That’s what you call a “cocktail, so to speak, [of] EPO ... transfusions and testosterone” that allows you to win the hardest race in the world.
That’s what you call “one big lie, that [was] repeated a lot of times.”
And for now it seems, that’s what a once-special message of empowerment and inspiration has been reduced to amid the surging news of Lance Armstrong’s confession to using performance-enhancing drugs.
On Monday, it was revealed that Armstrong finally admitted, in some capacity, to doping during an interview with Oprah Winfrey -- it aired for the first time Thursday at 9 p.m. on the Oprah Winfrey Network.
The confession was not the first stick in the spokes for Armstrong — he has been the subject of various doping allegations for more than a decade. In October, his seven consecutive Tour de France titles were vacated due to the allegations and he was banned from competition for life.
In recent sports history, the prevalence of steroid-use has become basic sports knowledge. We’ve seen it many times — from the forfeiture of Marion Jones’ five Olympic medals to the discussion of whether to add an asterisk on Barry Bonds’ home run record. We’ve heard the “I was just trying to keep up” or “Everyone was doing it” excuses repeatedly, and many times we’ve sympathized and forgiven these transgressors. But for some reason, this time is different. This time I’m offended.
We’re talking about an incredible story. This was a guy who, only 25 years old, was diagnosed with aggressive cancer that had spread extensively — including to his lungs and brain. Against all odds, he beat it. After starting an immensely popular foundation that supports cancer survivors, he did the impossible again by winning the Tour de France so many consecutive times that he needed two hands to show us.
He was the good guy. The one you wanted to root for. You didn’t have to know a thing about cycling to love Armstrong and everything he stood for. The wristbands were cool too.
So it stings to know with certainty that he cheated. But it doesn’t end there. As details continued to surface, we learned that Armstrong channeled the same intense desire to survive cancer into keeping his cheating hidden at all costs. We learned that he’s not the good guy we thought he was.
It was all just a shameless case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
The indications of various investigations and reports are disturbing. They assert that for years he viciously attacked and destroyed the reputations of friends and former-teammates who spoke out against him. He sued those with the courage to accuse him for libel and took their money when he won — knowing they had told the truth. He made suspicious monetary contributions to cycling regulation organizations, presumably to conceal his doping. As a captain, he led his team in a ruse that has been described by he U.S. Anti-Doping Agency as “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.”
It’s playing out like a "Law and Order" episode, and it’s pretty clear that he’s the bad guy at the end.
It was expected that his admission of guilt Thursday night would be limited, so as to minimize the legal repercussions of aggressively lying for over a decade. When asked by Oprah, “Did you ever take banned substances to enhance your cycling performances?”
His answer was simple. “Yes.”
So he did confess, but there were conflicting cues throughout; as if he had more disdain for getting caught than actually doing it. As the interview rolled on, it was the words Armstrong wouldn’t say — a truly sincere “I’m sorry” with the details to support it — that spoke louder than anything else. The tangential mentions of feeling justified and unfairly accused were other indications that he still hasn’t come to terms.
We needed him to show true remorse, maybe not to the extent that guilty children do when they rub one leg behind the other and avoid eye contact, but close. Something meaningful. Anything. Instead, we watched Armstrong, with pursed lips, talk about a “flawed man” and a “bully” as if he were speaking about a bad-egg son. The personal ownership and responsibility were lacking — just as it has been for years.
The interview was a pedal in the right direction, but there needed to be more. Maybe we’ll see that in the second part of the interview that airs Friday on the Oprah Winfrey Network.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Armstrong is a phenomenal athlete. Perhaps he was the greatest cyclist of all time and the most dominant we’ve ever seen an athlete be in their sport. But we’ll never know because he cheated. It’s that simple.
But it doesn’t seem that even Armstrong, a self-described “fierce competitor,” believes that he was the best.
“Do you think it’s humanly possible to win the Tour de France, without doping, seven times in a row?” asked Oprah.
“Not in my opinion,” he responded. So maybe we shouldn’t believe it either.
Armstrong has a long race to redemption, and whether he finishes is something that remains to be seen. Until then, in my mind, there’s an important modification that needs to be made because it wasn’t a miracle — much less one that happened seven times: