Lance Armstrong is a seven time winner of the Tour de France (the most grueling cycling race in the world) and, if that weren’t impressive enough already, he gained these victories after successfully battling testicular cancer that had metastasized to his brain and lungs.
As a cancer survivor and as a hugely successful American cyclist (one of few), he has not only inspired millions of people affected by cancer to fight harder and keep faith, but has also increased the popularity of cycling as a spectator sport in the U.S.
Of course, with success comes suspicion, especially when the success is as unprecedented, unbelievable, and awe-inspiring as Armstrong’s.
Over the years, Armstrong has often been accused of illegally using drugs to boost his performance in races. In June 2012, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) charged Armstrong with not only doping but also with being part of a major doping conspiracy during the 1990s and early 2000s when he was part of the Discovery team and the U.S. Postal Team respectively.
Armstrong was accused of using and distributing quite a few different banned performance-enhancing drugs such as testosterone, the human growth hormone, and the blood booster EPO, as well as of being part of a doping conspiracy and covering up the entire scheme by intimidating, disgracing, silencing, and retaliating against witnesses who spoke out, as well as by giving false statements when under oath.
More than ten members of Armstrong’s own team (all of whom have never been found guilty of doping) consented to testify against him and the other accused (who included his former team manger Johan Bruyneel, two team doctors, a team trainer, and his former trainer Michele Ferrari)—even George Hincapie, a rider who worked with Armstrong for all seven of his Tour titles and who is said to be as close as a brother to Armstrong.
Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton, both cyclists who have worked closely with Armstrong, previously have been found guilty of doping and also planned to testify against Armstrong.
Armstrong has always stated that he was innocent, clean, and did not support doping and cheating in any way. When USADA charged him, he filed charges in a federal court in an attempt to counter the intended punishments. However, his suit was dismissed and recently, in August 2012, Armstrong announced that he would not continue to fight the doping charges against him, saying that the agency’s conflict with him had always been an “unconstitutional witch hunt” and the process used was “one-sided and unfair”.
He said,” There comes a point in every man’s life when he has to say: ‘Enough is enough.’ For me, that time is now…the toll this has taken on my family, and my work for our foundation and on me leads me to where I am today—finished with this nonsense. ”
USADA interpreted this withdrawal as a signal of his culpability.
On August 24th, it not only banned him from cycling for life, but also stripped him of all his titles from 1999 onwards (including his seven Tour titles), thus completely erasing the past fourteen years of his impressive career. Currently, the matter of whether USADA has the legal power to declare and enforce such a ban is being investigated, yet the repercussions of the scandal cannot be erased: Armstrong has officially been branded a doper and a cheat.
On August 26th, during his first public appearance after the scandal, Armstrong said that he was “more at ease now than [he had been] in the past ten years”, and that he is “focusing on the future”, especially on that of Livestrong, his cancer foundation. (Livestrong has raised more than $500 million for cancer patients and research so far, and more than 70 million of their famous yellow Livestrong bracelets have been sold around the globe.)
Lance Armstong was an inspiration to many millions of people affected by cancer around the world—patients, survivors, friends, family members, and more. His remarkable accomplishments in both cycling and philanthropy made him a powerful symbol of the possibilities of life after cancer.
While few people would disagree with the statement that he is gifted and dedicated as an athlete as well as a philanthropist, he is also known as a fierce and often brutal competitor and a forceful self promoter. The world may never know the true force behind Armstrong’s cycling; whether it was grit and resolve or illegal drugs, and whether he was a fighter or a cheater remain , and will remain, undetermined.
As the world struggles to wrap their heads around recent revelations and draw their own conclusions, one thing remains clear: this marks the death of a legend. Armstrong was an international hero, and these recent developments go to show that even heroes are fallible.
Lance Armstrong will definitely be forever remembered in the areas of cancer and cycling—whether famously or infamously, though, remains to be seen.