“This is my body, and I can do whatever I want to it. I can Push it; Study it; Tweak it; Listen to it. Everybody wants to know what I am on. What am I on? I am on my bike busting my ass six hours a day; what are YOU on?” –Lance Armstrong
I started going to a “Lance Armstrong 24 Hour Fitness” in high school and read that quote on the wall every visit. The gym no longer has the Armstrong name; the murals of Lance, the quotes, they’re all gone. I stopped wearing my Livestrong bracelet about six months ago, the first time I was without one since seventh grade. There was a time in my life where I thought I would wear one forever. I know about pelotons, coasting and the yellow jerseys because of Lance Armstrong. Once I believed him when he said he wasn’t cheating. I knew long before last night that he fooled everyone.
Watching Oprah Winfrey last night, I was reminded of the classic epic hero stories, where a fatal flaw undoes the main character. The idea took hold in Greek tragedy, morphed in Shakespeare’s plays and came to America with the first settlers on the Mayflower. Lance’s perceived immortality was his fatal flaw. As I was watching Armstrong struggle to tell the truth in the first of two nights of interviews with Oprah, I felt I had seen this story before. The greatest film of all time came to mind. Citizen Kane by Orson Wells depicts a composite American icon who rises to prominence only to be embattled in scandal and ultimately die alone in his mansion Xanadu. Lance Armstrong’s legend died alone, and it’s not a very original story.
“Anyone who imagines they can work alone winds up surrounded by nothing but rivals, without companions. The fact is, no one ascends alone.” –Lance Armstrong
To expand Lance’s point, a quote that comes from his tour days, no one falls alone. He built up enough enemies that brought him down to the ground hard. He admitted as much in the first part of his interview with Oprah. Despite some observers questioning his sincerity, Lance appeared to be at least partially broken. Oprah’s interview style, of being the subject’s friend while asking them the tough questions, set Lance on edge and forced him to at least disclose a partial truth, something he had not done yet in his career. Armstrong’s arrogance, his fatal flaw, was at least partially removed for the interview.
The two biggest sports figures to follow Michael Jordan have now both fallen from grace with major scandals. First Tiger Woods in 2009, although this has never detracted from his accomplishments on the greens. Now Lance Armstrong, the apparent godfather of cycling, who competed against a field of cyclists also using performance-enhancing drugs. He brought the sport to prominence, and won one of the greatest endurance races on Earth seven times in a row. His legacy as a philanthropist and role model is tarnished, but can you completely discount him as an athlete?
As for Lance Armstrong the role model, if he returned from cancer and competed, not winning the Tour de France, he still would have been an American hero. He claims that he did not use performance enhancing drugs in his the last two Tour de France’s, one of which he finished third, but are we sure he wouldn’t have won without cheating? If the sport revolved around those drugs to compete, how did he pull that off? Would the real Lance Armstrong please come forward?
That’s really the problem with this entire saga. Lance Armstrong is an American hero. His deception is like finding out that Joe DiMaggio actually didn’t get a hit on the 22nd game of his 56 game hitting streak. His deception is similar to discovering that Muhammad Ali had steel in his gloves. It’s learning that the Soviet Union was paid to lose the 1980 Miracle on Ice hockey game against the United States. It’s still hard to comprehend how everyone was so wrong for all of these years.
The bitterness that surrounds Lance has nothing to do with the steroids. People are upset that they were deceived. Fellow cyclists are mad that he buried them in his schemes and rise to fame. Those that tried to stand in his way and had their reputations destroyed are looking for revenge. It’s impossible to believe that Lance Armstrong thought he could live so large for so long.
Who is the real Lance Armstrong? The Livestrong spokesman who survived cancer? The head of an elaborate bicycling mob that bullied people into doing what he said? Is he one of the greatest athlete’s of all time, who won the Tour de France seven times? Is anything about Lance not a deception, a lie? Can America forgive its fallen epic hero?