I did not get to watch the “true confessions” of Lance Armstrong, but from what I had read in the pre-show stories, there was not much sympathy left in me for a man whom I had once idolized. I mean, seven Tour de France titles is nothing to scoff at and having watched the live telecasts of some of his famous wins, I can say it took a lot to even win one Stage, leave alone the three-week race. For millions like me, Armstrong was the last word in cycling, but not any longer.
Back in 2006, I picked up his book, “It’s Not About the Bike, My Journey Back To Life” and shed tears reading his travails and battles with cancer, enjoyed his Tour wins and wondered how Armstrong could achieve so much. Indeed, for a brief moment, I did entertain the thought that he might have resorted to some kind of doping, but such a notion was as quickly dispelled as I, like million other fans, believed that he was clean.
Looking back, I realize that we were all so gullible to believe what we saw and I just cannot believe that we all urged him on through the tough Pyrenees mountain stages while rejoicing each time he was presented the yellow jersey. And now, the legend has literally gone up in smoke, his name permanently deleted from the Tour’s scroll of honour with the period 1999-2005 being left blank. How the mighty has fallen!
At 41 and with five children in tow, I wonder how Armstrong can face his family after publicly admitting to doping and thus declaring himself as a cheat. I vividly remember the podium celebrations in 2005 after the freshly divorced Armstrong celebrated his seventh Tour win with his son and two daughters. At that moment, he knew it was a victory that was achieved through cheating, but went through the charade of celebration even as we watched in awe.
And now, Armstrong has nowhere to hide. The stories are that even his “confessions” on the Oprah Winfrey show were doctored with carefully chosen questions and answers. Somehow, I never have much faith in a recorded chat show or interview, as there is always an element of doubt over its genuineness.
Whatever, the point is that Armstrong, after years of denials (an euphemism for lying), finally pleaded guilty and frankly, the verbal lashing he subjected himself to did not impress too many once it was proven that the doping allegations against him were as true.
I have a sneaking suspicion though that we have not heard the last of Armstrong or doping in cycling. There have been far too many instances of cheating in road racing for one to believe that there are any clean riders left at all on this planet.
Armstrong has said he wants to come clean by fingering some top guns in the cycling administrations who were willing co-conspirators and had full knowledge of doping that was rampant, but had opted for silence. Should Armstrong blow the lid off the scandal, then rest assured, there will be bigger worms crawling out of the can.
In a manner of speaking, there is nothing unique to the Armstrong case. Remember Ben Johnson of the 1988 Olympics vintage? He was caught and virtually lynched to trigger the biggest scandal in athletics, matched only by the infamous doping laboratories discovered in East Germany after the dismantling of the Berlin Wall.
The point is that Armstrong, like the other famous American Tiger Woods, has proved to be a massive let-down to his legion of fans who lived the highs and lows of their idols. And when the realization of being cheated dawns upon you, there is anger and you hit an emotional low that cannot be described in so many words.
Such a pity that Armstrong resorted to shot-cuts and was fully aware that he was cheating, but yet chose to cycle down that path thinking he can never be caught. The word is that he offered donations (an euphemism for bribe) to the cycling authorities who were investigating Armstrong. To such lows the man stooped in a bid to keep his public visage intact, but eventually failed.
The Armstrong saga is a body blow for cycling that like athletics will be forever be viewed with suspicion. You can paint the tainted wall, but never quite erase the stains that will always show up over time. Armstrong has hurt the sport that had made him a legend and earned him millions of dollars besides avid fans, and there is no greater sin than cutting the hand that is feeding you.
After all this, the emotional bonding with somebody like Federer has grown stronger, for like millions of his fans, I am hoping that what I see is what there is. Like Armstrong was once in cycling, there is no greater sight than Federer in tennis with his elegant one-handed backhand and those balletic on-court movements that have made the Swiss such a special player.
It is to be hoped then that we do not come across any more Armstrongs in the New Year and that a Federer will continue to light up our lives.