Lance Armstrong doping allegations

I was critical of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) last month because they were not being fully transparent in their allegations against Lance Armstrong, especially when they stripped him of his Tour de France titles and banned him from competing in cycling events. That changed last week, when the USADA released their report on the investigation.

I have to admit that I haven’t read the entire report in detail. I have, however, skimmed over most of it. I didn’t see a “smoking gun,” but there is a whole lot of evidence presented by a lot of people who rode beside Armstrong for a lot of years. Many of them seemingly have nothing to gain from making their statements, and in several cases stand to lose quite a bit in doing so. It strains belief to think that all those people are lying.

The preponderance of evidence strongly suggests that Lance Armstrong was in violation of the anti-doping rules when he won his seven Tours.

I find that very disappointing.

A popular sentiment is, “Who cares?” Those who hold this belief point out that you would have to go far down the leader board to find a cyclist who has not been found guilty of doping and as a result Armstrong was simply leveling the playing field. This argument is summed up by the ever-so-popular, “Everybody else was doing it.”

That may indeed be the case. It certainly seems that way. And regardless, Armstrong’s seven Tour wins after his battle with testicular cancer is an impressive achievement. But if he really did depend on doping to achieve those wins, his heroic achievement is diminished. If the allegations are true, the Armstrong myth is busted.

There are those of us who want to believe in a hero. Armstrong was that guy: the up-and-coming athlete who suffered a great loss (nearly losing his life to cancer) and came back, stronger than ever, to do something that nobody had ever done. And do it by the book, thumbing his nose at the crooked ways of his competitors. Before Armstrong, it was Rocky. But Rocky was a movie character. Armstrong was the real deal!

Or so I thought. It’s undeniable that Lance Armstrong won those Tours, but now it looks as though he did it by being like everybody else. That shatters the heroic illusion that I and many others had. We continued to deny the possibility as the evidence mounted, watching one disgraced rider after another found guilty of cheating, and pointing out that in all the tests that Armstrong had submitted to, he’d never tested positive for banned substances. Eventually, though, one has to admit that maybe he’s been wrong.

There are those who will take Armstrong to task for misleading people all this time, allowing himself to be held up as an example or as a great hero when in fact he was no different than anybody else. To those I will ask a simple question: In his shoes, what would you have done? If, as it appears, everybody was doing it, then if every cyclist who was accused of doping admitted it, there would have been nobody left to ride the Tour. The only reasonable response by anybody in that situation is to do exactly what most others have done: vigorously proclaim innocence until such time as there is undeniable proof to the contrary.

The fault for Armstrong’s “fall from grace,” at least in my eyes, lies with me rather than with him. I wanted to believe in the heroic, and I maintained that belief much longer than many others. But there is just too much evidence in that USADA report to ignore.

Is Armstrong guilty? I don’t know. Perhaps I never will unless he comes out and admits it. I still think he was the best cyclist of his time. But the “superhuman” myth is busted.

I will, however, continue looking for the heroic. I believe in the heroic in man. I’ve seen it. And I’m willing to be wrong from time to time in my pursuit of it.