This piece was originally published on 18th October
In 2001, Nike aired a commercial with Lance Armstrong sending a strong message to all those who suspected he used performance-enhancing drugs. The ad ended with the cyclist saying: “Everybody wants to know what I am on… What am I on? I’m on my bike, busting my ass six hours a day. What are you on?”
Well, it turns out that Armstrong was not just on his bike, busting his ass six hours a day. He was also on EPO. And Testosterone. And cortisone. And human growth hormones. And multiple blood transfusions too.
Now, we also know that the title to Armstrong’s first book was really incomplete – ‘It’s not about the bike… it’s about the drugs.’
Even his second book was perhaps a pointer in the same direction – ‘Every second counts… before you get caught.’
For a long time, Armstrong had dismissed the USADA’s efforts as a ‘witch hunt’ but yesterday, he had no answers as seven sponsors dropped him from their advertising campaigns. The sponsors including Nike, brewery giant Anheuser-Busch and Trek among them made a direct reference to 1,000-page reasoned decision that was issued by the USADA.
Nike, which initially supported Armstrong, dropped him citing what it called “seemingly insurmountable evidence” and said it had been “misled” by Armstrong for more than 10 years. Anheuser-Busch said it will let Armstrong’s contract expire at the end of the year. Trek Bicycle said it was “disappointed,” while 24 Hour Fitness decided that the disgraced cyclist “no longer aligns with our company’s mission and values.”
Armstrong, himself, stepped down as chairman of Livestrong “to spare the foundation any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding my cycling career.”
How could Armstrong not fear being caught?
Some might say that Armstrong didn’t cheat. He just went along with the flow – everyone was cheating, so if he wanted to win he had to do the same. Of the five riders who finished second in Armstrong’s seven wins, only one (Joseba Beloki) has not been fined or banned for doping.
But then again that’s like saying – everyone who kills during the riots is not guilty because they were simply going with the flow of things.
And instead of applauding Beloki, we will continue to say that Armstrong was not wrong. If he truly wanted to be a pioneer; if he truly wanted to inspire people then Armstrong should have considered the impact of his deceit.
Sometimes, it’s best not to win. Walking 10,000 miles for charity is inspirational; setting up a shelter for the homeless is inspirational too, cleaning the streets can serve its purpose as well. There are a million other things that Armstrong could have done – but he set his mind on winning the Tour De France; he could have set his mind on cleaning up the sport as well.
Armstrong is guilty – he is a cheat, a liar, a manipulator and he did it with a smile. Honestly, he played with the emotions of everyone involved and by not admitting to his guilt, he continues to emotionally cheat them.
This isn’t just about Armstrong anymore. This is perhaps a window into our society – where it’s okay to lie to get to the top, just don’t get caught doing it.