Sometime in the last decade or two (or three), a significant shift in American culture replaced the celebration of extraordinary accomplishments with a cynical desire to bring the person down, to discover a chink in the armor, a sensational scandal, a story worthy of creating controversy. Politics is a prime example of this attitude. When did “opposition research” become top priority when an individual has the courage to throw his or her name into the fray as a candidate for public office? “The politics of personal destruction” now extends to anyone who dares accomplish greatness in any arena.
This week witnessed the ultimate example of this sentiment taken to the extreme. To millions of people fighting cancer, survivors, family members, Lance Armstrong is a hero. His foundation and his stature as an elite athlete—and cancer survivor himself—helped erase the stigma attached to cancer, brought worldwide attention to the concept of “survivorship,” and is living proof that productive lives—and world class accomplishments—do exist for cancer survivors. The hundreds of millions of funds raised to support cancer awareness, assist families with resources, and the hope Lance himself represents make him a hero—and that’s even before you look at his athletic prowess post-cancer.
His greatness as an athlete was evident in his teens, capturing triathlon titles over stronger, more experienced athletes. His potential as a pro cyclist was evident before his well-known battle with testicular cancer in 1996. The fact that just three years after doctors gave him a very small chance of surviving the advanced cancer, Lance was physically and mentally prepared to challenge the most demanding sporting event ever, the Tour de France, makes him a hero—even had he finished the race in last place. But, as everyone knows, 1999 marked the first of seven consecutive Tour victories. Lance had twice conquered the impossible—surviving cancer then winning the Tour de France.
No one questioned his recovery from stage four cancer. He didn’t “cheat” to win that battle (other than cheating death itself), but in a sport rife with blood doping, performance enhancement concoctions, many assumed Lance must have cheated to win. The allegations dogged him throughout the seven years, but in the end—although the most tested athlete ever—Lance never tested positive for illegal substance.
Enter the USADA, 14 years after that first Tour victory, after a two-year federal investigation was ended due to lack of evidence, taking on the case with what only can be described as a mission to destroy Lance Armstrong’s legacy. It was obvious from the moment the USADA issued its ultimatum—accept sanctions or go through its arbitration process—there was no way Lance could win. “Arbitration” USADA-style is conducted by a three-person panel selected by the USADA. There is no opportunity to cross-examine or actually face the unnamed witnesses during the process. USADA showed its hand when it offered immunity and minor suspensions to the still-unnamed witnesses. Investigating American cyclists for PEDS (performance enhancing drugs) wasn’t USADA’s agenda. Destroying Lance Armstrong obviously was its intent.
Consider the fact that USADA is tasked with monitoring anti-doping in Olympic sports, not professional cycling. Consider the fact that the UCI, the worldwide governing agency for pro cycling, disputes USADA’s jurisdiction in the Armstrong case and requested its evidence to turn it over to an independent third-party. USADA declined and refused to share the evidence. Consider that the hundreds of blood tests that the UCI conducted on Lance over those seven years never produced evidence of PEDS—no failed drug test. No smoking gun. The UCI does not hesitate to sanction those who test positive for banned substances, and the organization that runs the Tour de France (ASO) has disqualified many cyclists for positive tests—notably Floyd Landis in 2006 and Alberto Contador in 2010—stripping both of their Tour titles.
It’s no longer a question of innocence or guilt—the USADA unilaterally erased Armstrong’s cycling career in an almost giddy statement moments after Lance said, “Enough. I’m through with this.” How the USADA can strip Tour de France titles from an event over which it has no jurisdiction and brush off the UCI’s request to examine the evidence are just two of the questions left unanswered.
The story will not end here. The Tour de France stated that it has not stripped Armstrong of his titles, awaiting further developments, and the UCI still claims jurisdiction in this matter. Neither organization has given Armstrong a “pass” over the seven years’ reign as Tour de France champion. After all, they conducted the tests, in season and out-of-season season, and without a doubt would have happily sanctioned Armstrong had he ever failed a test. He hasn’t and they accepted the results of their tests.
So, in the end, it’s the Americans who seek to destroy Armstrong’s legacy. Never would have imagined that scenario. Why? What’s the purpose? Why now, after he has retired from cycling? What has the millions of dollars spent on this USADA mission accomplished?
Little-to-nothing. Those who always believed that the seemingly impossible must have been achieved through illegal substances will continue to maintain Lance “cheated.” Those who believe Lance will continue to do so. So, in the end, nothing has changed—except the sad realization that our country no longer celebrates its heroes. No, so much better to destroy and “erase” an entire career of an athlete who never failed a drug test. Guilty until proven innocent—is that the government’s new American way?
Very sad, indeed.
- Live Sport Reports: UCI to wait before acting on Armstrong (walesonline.co.uk)
- Armstrong update: U.S. Anti-Doping Agency will strip Lance Armstrong of his Tour de France titles (mercurynews.com)
- Thoughts on Lance Armstrong (carlybananas.com)