Mixed Feelings About Lance Armstrong's Downfall
Oh, how we love when hubris is finally brought to heel. This can be conveyed with pious insincerity, as when the CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, Travis Tygart, said in his first official statement on the Lance Armstrong affair Thursday night: "It is a sad day for all of us who love sport and our athletic heroes. This is a heartbreaking example of how the win-at-all-costs culture of sport, if left unchecked, will overtake fair, safe and honest competition, but for clean athletes, it is a reassuring reminder that there is hope for future generations to compete on a level playing field without the use of performance enhancing drugs."
Or the chortle of sports columnist Christine Brennan in USA Today on Friday: "The seven-time Tour de France winner and famous cancer survivor now has officially earned himself another title: cheater."
Or as one of my colleagues blithely said Friday morning, "We always knew he was a cheater."
It is an ugly human reaction to welcome the news of the arrogant champion revealed a charlatan.
Armstrong announced he would decline to defend himself at the scheduled arbitration hearings with the USADA, saying he was tired of repeatedly defending himself against accusations and statements that he blood-doped and used performance-enhancing drugs despite the fact he had never failed a mandated drug test.
The USADA promptly said his refusal was an admission of guilt according to its rules and vowed to strip him of his championships dating back to when he was born. It followed through on the threat the next afternoon.
The governing bodies of cycling, both the international federation and the group who runs the Tour de France, are being more deliberative. But they, too, are bound to eventually succumb to the holy warriors in Washington.
I am not among the celebrants.
I find that I share the bittersweet feeling reflected in the comments of former French road-racing star Laurent Jalabert: "Armstrong is someone who has always been controversial. He is someone who has always done cycling good. I am persuaded that he is an immense champion. He made this sport popular beyond Europe.
"He had a lot of success, a lot of talent, and also a way of practicing his sport that didn't please everyone. There were those who adored him and those who hated him because he was arrogant, because he loved to win by crushing his adversaries. And so I think this news will please some. I am a bit torn."
I have admired Lance Armstrong since I first watched him win the Tour in 1999. His approach and work ethic are inspirational. But it would be even more inspirational to me if he crafted an honest answer to his critics and accusers besides pointing to the drug tests.
When the USADA unilaterally stripped Armstrong of his wins, it effectively awarded his championships to cyclists who are admitted or sanctioned dopers in other years of the Tour or other cycling events - a reminder that cycling, like most other high stakes sports, is unsavory.
But the efforts that the USADA has pursued in its quest "to get" Armstrong are more unappealing to me than the fact that cyclists are trying to find ways to extend their endurance and capabilities.
I understand that Armstrong felt his only path was to stop playing the USADA's game, but the game he should play is to lay everything on the table. We know it is not in his makeup to apologize, so go on a different kind of offensive and tell us why the way he approached his sport was not cheating, and not harmful to himself or his sport.
It would be refreshing to hear that argument. I'd have more respect for him than Travis Tygart.
Frank Daniels III, part owner of The Pilot and cousin of Pilot Publisher David Woronoff, is the community engagement editor of The Nashville Tennessean. Contact him at fdanielsiii@ tennessean.com.
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