Lance Armstrong was more than just the world’s best cyclist. The U.S. cycling legend transcended his sport, and became a national icon and inspiration.
Those who witnessed his greatness might forever remember it, but seven years removed from his last Tour de France title, his achievements have been wiped away from the record books. On Monday, the International Cycling Union announced Armstrong was formally stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned from competition for life for doping.
Armstrong, who also lost his endorsements, is far from the only one who loses in this ruling. The sport of cycling and its reputation, especially in the U.S., has been damaged.
In becoming the most decorated cyclist in Tour de France history , Armstrong inspired a new generation of cyclists in the U.S. and brought attention to the Tour that it had never before attained in areas west of the Atlantic. Following this ruling, every young cyclist who grew up idolizing him has been told their idol is illegitimate.
It is easy to paint Armstrong as the bad guy, but the doping allegations against him are representative of the sport’s culture in his generation. Two additional winners since Armstrong, U.S. cyclist Floyd Landis in 2006 and Spanish cyclist Alberto Contador in 2010, had already been stripped of their titles for testing positive for performance-enhancing substances.
Armstrong had been defending his purity from doping for years, but in August, he decided to stop fighting allegations from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. Further reports from the USADA have revealed evidence of his doping. The reputation of cycling had already taken a huge hit from the doping convictions against other stars including Landis and Contador, but Armstrong’s ban and stripped titles are a crushing blow.
The sport of cycling now lacks a superstar, and with the tarnished legacy of a man who is still the sport’s most recognizable face, the reputation of competitive, professional cycling is forever damaged.
Armstrong was more, however, than just a superstar face in his sport. He overcame testicular cancer to achieve athletic glory. Through his success, Armstrong became an inspiration to cancer survivors everywhere.
Many people fighting cancer had turned to Armstrong as a success story and a source of hope. Will those same people now question this entire premise?
Armstrong founded the Lance Armstrong Foundation in 1997, and in the past 15 years, his LIVESTRONG nonprofit brand has raised more than $470 million for cancer research, according to the foundation’s website.
Amid the scandal, Armstrong stepped down as LIVESTRONG chairman, naming former vice chairman Jeff Garvey to be his successor, according to his website . But while Armstrong can be stripped of his athletic titles, his contributions to fighting cancer cannot simply be taken away. His athletic success might be considered illegitimate, but it enabled him to make the massive fundraising impact he has.
That is why, even though Armstrong will be called a liar and a cheater by many, I still wear a yellow LIVESTRONG bracelet on my wrist with pride. While the bracelets became popular as a symbol of Armstrong’s journey from fighting cancer to achieving athletic success, they still carry meaning as a symbol of fighting a disease that affects millions of Americans. Had it not been for Armstrong’s rise to glory, LIVESTRONG never could have raised hundreds of millions of dollars, and the effort to fight cancer will continue even as Armstrong’s records fall.