Lance Armstrong and the Sad Tale of a Fallen Sports Hero

Lance Armstrong seemed like an epic hero – a sports figure who used his second chance after surviving cancer to inspire an international audience following his Tour de France cycling race victories.    He seemed to easily rack up seven titles, beginning in 1999, without succumbing to a pervasive drug culture.  Like countless others, I thought his foundation Livestrong proved his integrity.  His incredible triumphs on the world stage under the banner of the US Post Office gave him Olympian status. Now he has revealed to Oprah that it was all a big lie.

Tennis champions Serena Williams and Roger Federer were quoted by AP and Reuters as saying that Armstrong let all athletes down by doping and lying about it for so long:–ten.html Williams said that  “as an athlete, as someone that works really, really hard since I was 4 or 3, I think it’s a sad day for all athletes in general. Overall, it’s even more disappointing for the people that were adversely  affected through everything.  You can only just hope for the best for them.”

Armstrong was a champion in a sport that personally gave me so much joy in my own youth and helped me to learn to push myself hard in life and overcome the pain.  I gave up cycling after I was married in the ’80s and joined my husband in working out in the gym.  It wasn’t until I was a widow on my own again in Brooklyn that I rediscovered the joys of cycling.

In fact, long bike rides have helped me feel less fearful  about the challenges of aging – and as I started cycling in Prospect Park in 2010, I enjoyed watching Lance Armstrong compete.  So it was devastating to first hear that he was finally implicated in drugging and then to learn that he had admitted his lies to Oprah.  I listened to the Oprah interviews to try to understand why such an astounding athlete felt he needed drugs.  Armstrong told Oprah that he didn’t believe he could live up to his own myth without doping.  Once he started, he claimed that the same dogged willpower that helped him beat cancer set in and he bullied his way through his seven Tour de France victories. He swears that he didn’t use drugs for his comeback races.

The saddest realization during Part I  of the interviews with Oprah was that Armstrong did not strike me as remorseful, but cocky and cold.  The cockiness broke in Part II when he briefly cried as he talked about his children. While Armstrong repeatedly told Oprah he was sorry, he made exceptions on what accusations he would discuss and who deserved an apology. The result was that most news commentators agreed that  Armstrong did not in fact seem very contrite.  I still hope that Armstrong eventually finds a way to make amends to those he hurt.  Even more, I hope the drug culture is finally scourged from professional cycling and other sports mired in scandal.  Sports heroes have always been great beacons of hope and inspiration, but we need to know again that true effort, not bullying, wins out in the end.

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