We all love a story of heroism and triumph, particularly when the hero is someone who has overcome an adversity that by right should have stopped him in his tracks. It inspires us to believe that adversity can be overcome and can even make us stronger.
Up until a few months ago, Lance Armstrong was one of those stories. He was a man who at age 25 overcame cancer, then went on to win bicycling’s most prestigious race, the Tour de France, year after year. He created a foundation to help others with cancer, using his own story as its centerpiece. His personal story clearly had an impact on people — his foundation has raised some $325 million “to inspire and empower” cancer victims and their families.
He was an ideal hero.
Come to find out, it was a “hero story” built on a foundation of doping, lying and manipulation. And now it has utterly crumbled to the ground.
Doping allegations have swirled around Armstrong for years, and he had consistently denied them — or more accurately, he had stated that he had never failed a drug test.
The evidence has gradually mounted against Armstrong, leading to a formal accusation by the United States Anti-Doping Agency in June and a lifelong ban from sports in which the anti-doping standards are applied. Armstrong initially strongly denied the charges, but has since decided he will not challenge the agency’s conclusions. The revelation is also a vindication of sorts for Marblehead’s Tyler Hamilton, whose gold medal from the 2004 Athens Olympics was stripped after he was found to have doped. A longtime teammate of Armstrong, Hamilton said the Texan habitually used blood transfusions and other performance-enhancing techniques.
A report made public last week puts a new light on Armstrong and his long-standing denials. The United States Anti-Doping Agency laid out its lengthy dossier on Armstrong, a document that shows that for years Armstrong and others participated in a calculated scheme to avoid testing and manipulate the system. Armstrong and others used a wide variety of ways to avoid being tested — including strategies as simple as hiding when the testers showed up at his door.
The drug-testing system had a number of weaknesses, the report found, and Armstrong was clever enough to find his way through all of them.
Technically, Armstrong’s long-standing statement that he never failed a drug test was correct, but what he failed to say was that he had manipulated the system. It was an “error of omission” or, more simply put, a calculated lie.
He has paid the price for his doping and his deceit. His inspiring wins in the Tour de France have been invalidated, and with them his legacy, not to mention his inspiring story of “heroism.”
As for his foundation, it seems it would be difficult to carry on a mission that is built upon such a massive story of deceit. But the lure of hope and inspiration is strong, particularly for people facing cancer. The foundation’s chairman has reported that donations have actually increased during this latest round of credibility problems for Armstrong.
We’ll always have a soft spot for hero stories. We want to find inspiration in the stories of people who overcome adversity. But Lance Armstrong’s tale reminds us of the extreme lengths people will go to to create a cult of heroism.