The SportingJournal

Lance’s fall from grace

Sports fans are divided into two camps when it comes to Lance Armstrong. Guilty or not guilty. There’s not much black and white when it comes to the man in yellow.

There are those that think he’s on the receiving end of a 21st century witch hunt, and those that think he should be burnt at the stake.  The romantics out there want to believe that the allegations aren’t true and that this man is as close to a God on Earth that we’ll see.
But Armstrong’s announcement that he’ll stop fighting the US Anti Doping Agency’s charges -leaving him open to the stripping of his seven Tour de France titles – let the air out of the tyres of any challenge his defenders could make on his behalf.

There won’t be much air in their lungs tonight, either.  Because now, there’s very little out there to back up their support, aside from the (hugely telling) facts that Armstrong has maintained his innocence and never returned a positive test.

Lance Armstrong, Did he or Didn’t he? Credit: Mario Tama/Getty

Regardless, when a non-believer comes at them, they’re not going to have much in the way of comebacks.

Armstrong’s decision to walk away and not defend the blood doping charges, stemming back to 1996, is at first a puzzling, then clever one.
While on the one hand, you have to see where he’s coming from. His “enough is enough” reasoning is sound. Who wants their achievements and reputation constantly scrutinised? He’s been questioned dozens of times, by officials and the press, and it’s obvious that he wants to put an end to that and get on with his life.

On the other, is as close as you’ll get to a guilty plea – but it carries about half of the stigma.
By coming out and defending himself one last time, then dejectedly resigning himself to the verdict, Armstrong ensured his name isn’t totally tarnished forever.

There will always be a question mark as to whether he did or didn’t.

Now that the officials have taken his titles away, they’ll cease their investigation. Fellow riders will stop coming out of the woodwork pointing fingers.

But really, aren’t seven Tour de France titles worth fighting for?

Granted, I’m crazy competitive (with and emphasis on crazy), but I would scrap and claw and kick to defend any achievement of mine if I believe I’d earned it, and most would say the same.

If he thought he could win, he would fight. Hell, this is a man who fights and succeeds even when there’s not much chance of winning.

Which makes it all the more damning that he’s given up.

Did he give up because he’s guilty? Or because he’s innocent, but believes he would be found guilty anyway?

It’s a double edge sword for cycling authorities. It’s what they want, but also what they don’t want. They want to show the world that their sport is clean and that cheating won’t be tolerated. But the latest Armstrong news (along the stripping of Floyd Landis’ 2006 title in 2010) has exposed the Tour as a something of a farce.

The jury is split as to whether they’ve lost or gained credibility. Something they have lost for sure is their patron saint and poster boy.  So much of what Lance Armstrong has built exists within his reputation outside of the sport.

People who have never watched a stage of the Tour know who he is. He’s raised millions of dollars, and millions of cancer survivors hopes.

I took a trip to Adelaide with some friends in 2009 to see the Tour Down Under, specifically to see him in person. There was an aura about the man and a hysteria that followed him that I’ve never experienced with any other athlete, save for Tiger Woods. (We lost him too, and we already know that LeBron James is kind of a jerk. Let’s hope Roger Federer can keep his beak clean.)

I’ve worn a yellow Livestrong band almost every day for the past six years.
Two weeks ago, it broke. I keep meaning to track down another one, but never got around to it. Talk about a harbinger, right? I don’t think I’ll bother buying a new one. As for that Livestrong t-shirt I wear out jogging… well, I might put that away for a while.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago that sport is about rising and falling – that falls are inevitable.

Lance Armstrong has fallen plenty of times. But sadly, there won’t be any getting up from this one.

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