I used to be a die-hard Lance Armstrong fan. The Tour de France was required viewing every July during his run of seven titles. Each victory seemed more magical than the last. Each account of how he conquered the mountains year after year stirred the romantic sports fan in me. Yes, there were whispers of doping. But no successful athlete can avoid those in these times. He had never failed a drug test to my knowledge. His achievements were testimony to his will. In my head, Armstrong simply outworked everyone because he wanted it more.
Over the years the evidence mounted. Confessions from team-mates and rivals. Talk of tests overturned or simply made to disappear by those with the ability to do so. At first, I dismissed them. It was jealousy, I reasoned. Armstrong’s success and story – his beating cancer and beating everyone else - had made him bigger than the sport of cycling. That was bound to create envy. He had still never failed a test.
I know better now. The hundreds of pages of evidence released by the United States Anti-Doping Agency late last year made an overwhelming case that Armstrong cheated. The eyewitness testimony from teammates, the laboratory analyses, the financial records – they all painted a picture of a determined, systematic approach to beating the system. If Armstrong had never failed a test, it was not because he had never taken performance enhancing drugs, it was because he had done everything in his power not to test positive.
Thus far Armstrong has continued to maintain his innocence, but a New York Times story last week suggested he was weighing an admission of guilt “because he wanted to persuade anti-doping officials to restore his eligibility so he can resume his athletic career”. Today came news that on 17 January he will sit down with Oprah Winfrey for a no-holds barred interview.
As a former fan of Armstrong, I hope the stories are true. I hope that sitting on Oprah’s couch he finds the space and comfort to stop hiding behind the lies and confess. Cycling may have been riddled with doping while Armstrong competed, but he not only made a personal choice to cheat, he built it up into an unstoppable system that would not tolerate the opposite choice. That system needs to be brought down and Armstrong is the only man who can do it.
As the New York Times pointed out, “If Armstrong gives an admission to the anti-doping agency, his testimony might help the agency win [other] cases. It also might help the agency find out who, if anyone, in the hierarchy of cycling was involved in the cover-up.”
For me, as a former fan, providing that sort of evidence will salvage some of what I used to feel about Armstrong. That he has decided at last to do the right thing and help, in whatever way, to clean up the sport that he has so damaged. It will not restore his credibility but it will restore some of his humanity. It will also finally, allow fans like me everywhere to finally move on and place a full stop at the end of this sorry, sordid tale.