Lance Armstrong: The Man, The Myth, The Liar?

By Kent Caraway

What do we do when our heroes are deconstructed before our eyes? What do we do when more than fifteen years of competition are undermined by a regulatory agency? Can cycling clean up its act and restore the faith of a dwindling and distrustful fan base, and why does Lance Armstrong matter or not?

These are the questions that cycling enthusiasts, the bicycling business, and the media must struggle with now that Lance has been exposed as a liar and a doper and has admitted at least some of his mistakes in an interview last week with Oprah Winfrey. This revelation is huge not just because of Armstrong’s tremendous influence and impact on the sport of cycling, but because it raises difficult questions about competition, personality, and idolatry in sports.

Cycling is a sport in which only the strong survive, and only those willing to do whatever it takes to win will win. So what was so wrong with Lance Armstrong leading the field on the road and behind the green curtain. Lance was the best and had mastered doping without getting caught. It is easy to forget that Lance survived the incredible scrutiny and passed over 600 drug tests during the span of his career. This kind of perfection is not achieved by a man who does not understand how the game is played or a man that is working alone. His team, his sponsors, and possibly the regulators were all involved in the corruption that helped him to achieve all that he did. This conglomeration of lies, and their longtime success make many journalists want to judge Lance all the more harshly: (Dan Wetzel). Despite the lies, the corruption, and the unbridled ambition, Lance has achieved more in his lifetime than most men ever hope to dream about. He beat cancer, inspired millions, raised awareness and almost $470 million for cancer research, encouraged people to ride their bike and be healthier, brought unprecedented attention to cycling, and won seven tour de France titles in a row. (Livestrong)

So who had the big picture in mind? The man inspiring millions or those who want to expose him as a cheater? I do not wish to excuse Lance Armstrong for lying and cheating, but any criticism must also acknowledge his success. No one can deny that Lance has always been “a badass on a bike” (Floyd Landis) The critics must also consider the history of cycling and the prevalence of doping throughout the industry; which according to Wikipedia goes back to 1886 (Wiki List of Doping Cases). It is easy to condemn Lance for cheating and then lying about it for so long, but it is also important to keep the issue in perspective. It is true for the athletes and fans that it matters and the competition consumes the lives of the athletes, but what does it mean when compared to the political and business corruption that poisons our environment and condemns our children to stagnant educational systems.

Lance may not be a role model, but he did inspire people to live and live better. Is it impossible to ignore the positive influence that Lance is responsible for without recognizing that he has made mistakes and is not immune to the environment in which he competed(Torri suggests doping is rife in cycling).

The legacy of Lance Armstrong will be disputed for some time in the world of professional sports and outside of it. However, a fan may choose to remember Lance’s incredible achievements without forgetting his faults. He is a man as complex and vulnerable as any man, but one more worthy of remembering than most.

The question that remains is if cycling can recover its credibility or will Lance’s downfall be an apocalypse of the pedal? (Armstrong doping scandal could see Olympics drop cycling) That is a question for the fans, amateurs, and athletes.

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