After well over a decade of denials, seven-time Tour de France winner, Lance Armstrong, has finally admitted to priest-to-the-stars Oprah Winfrey that he engaged in illegal activities that boosted his riding performances to almost superhuman levels.
No doubt he will rationalise his behaviour by tendering that there was, at the time, a doping culture in cycling to which he had to subscribe in order to compete – a kind of levelling of the playing field so to speak.
There might be, in some perverted way, some merit in that argument. But would it have been too much to ask for him to have tried to clean up the sport rather than plunge it further into the den of corruption that it reportedly became?
Rather than joining the deceitful throng, could he not have sought, at some point, to sanitise his beloved sport by using his status to uncover all the sleazy happenings that threatened it’s authenticity?
Of all the drug cheats that have been exposed over the years, Lance Armstrong is the most despicable.
Not only did he mislead the world about his use of performance enhancing drugs, he brought the entire Lance Armstrong protection machine down upon all who dared to accuse him of wrongdoing. It mattered not one jot to him that he was besmirching reputations and destroying lives.
Emma O’Reilly served as a masseuse and aide to Armstrong and his United States Postal cycling team before she decided to cooperate with Irish journalist and Armstrong nemesis, David Walsh for a book titled, L. A. Confidential: The Secrets of Lance Armstrong.
For just telling the truth about what her close proximity to the cycling legend and her official and unofficial (sometimes illegal) duties allowed her to witness, Ms. O’Reilly was cruelly labeled a whore and an alcoholic by Armstrong and hauled before the courts along with the Sunday Times of London, which had published excerpts of the book.
Armstrong and his minions behaved like the mafia, threatening, smearing and bullying everyone who crossed him.
Frankie Andreu, a one-time teammate of Armstrong, and his wife, then fiancé, Betsy, were visiting Armstrong at the hospital in 1996 after he was struck down by testicular cancer when they overheard him admitting to a doctor that he used performance enhancing drugs.
Contacted by Walsh, who somehow got wind of the episode, Betsy was willing to discuss the incident, thereby earning the wrath of Armstrong and his foot soldiers waged a long running campaign of lies and intimidation against the couple.
In one instance in 2008, they received a voice mail from an associate of Armstrong that said, in part, “ I hope someone breaks a baseball bat over your head.”
And these were not isolated incidents. Everyone who dared say even a word against him had to contend with his slings and arrows.
Teammate, Tour de France winner, and fellow doper, Floyd Landis was called unstable and a liar, American cycling legend and three-time tour de France winner, Greg Lemond was warned that there were “witnesses” ready to testify that he had also found drugs useful throughout his career.
One teammate of his reportedly refused an offer of US $300,000 to testify to that effect.
And the list goes on. In the end the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) was able to able to release a 1000-page document containing evidence of doping against Armstrong, supplied by 26 persons, indicating their reasons for stripping him of his seven Tour de France titles and banning him for life.
Not only was he a user, he encouraged and sometimes coerced others to use with him. A career that soared as high as any in sport came crashing down in dishonour and disgrace.
One of the most contemptible features of Armstrong’s defence over the years, was his willingness to use his battle with cancer as a shield.
Anyone summoning the courage to confront him about suspicions raised about his nefarious activities would be slapped down by a bristling Armstrong offering his experience with cancer as one reason he would never abide such abuse to his body.
He was also not averse to trotting out his cancer work as evidence of his virtuousness. He almost seemed to be saying that if you suspected him of cheating then it must be that you loved cancer.
Yet life is complicated, and out of evil can come some good. Armstrong’s work in cancer prevention and treatment through his Livestrong Foundation has improved and saved many lives.
His fame allowed him to raise a whole lot of funds and many cancer patients will testify of the help they received from the Austin, Texas based organisation. Hopefully it will survive.