Sunday, 14 October 2012

Lance Armstrong

Let me state front and centre. I have been a Lance Armstrong fan since 2002 when I became aware of this amazing story of recovering from cancer to come back and dominate the world’s hardest, most demanding annual athletic contest.

Since I started cycling in 2004, I have read many books on the subject including those written by Armstrong and several about him and his Tour wins.

I have also worn a Livestrong band since 2004, partly in support of the cause and partly because I like the general concept of the message “Livestrong”

In addition, when I confronted my own (non cancer) health challenge in 2008, I adopted the “Livestrong” mantra as part of my recovery philosophy and have continued to do so in subsequent years. Also, I adopted words Lance stated when talking about his Cancer treatment as my motto “You’ve got to strong, you’ve got to be brave”

I regularly reminded myself of his words particularly during some of the less than pleasant processes before, during and after surgery as well as in the initial rehabilitation period. I continue to adopt this motto today.

Having said that, my first real bike was a Trek however I was not familiar enough with the sport of pro cycling at the time of purchase to realise that this was the bike of Lance and his team. In fact, I was somewhat disappointed to discover it was his bike brand as I have always avoided purchasing sporting equipment used by the mega stars. For example, I never used a Gray Nichols cricket bat largely because this was the brand used by the test stars when I was a teenager.

I have also been an advocate of “if you test positive for banned substances, you are guilty and serve a suspension” and I don’t care of you are a famous cricketer or world ranked Australian swimmer taking a head ache tablet. The circumstances leading to your positive test are irrelevant because you are responsible for everything that goes in to your mouth. By logical progression, if you do not test positive, you are innocent.

All that aside, for many years now it has not been logical to me that Lance raced clean. Every competitor who challenged him at the Tour has subsequently returned a positive test or been implicated in doping. By extension, I felt it highly likely that Lance also doped.

So how do I feel now with the basically irrefutable evidence that Lance Armstrong built an athletic career largely based on being able to plan, participate in and execute the very best drugs in sport regime there has ever been?

I feel hollow and sad.

My hollowness is as a result of being fooled by the most extraordinary non military propaganda campaign ever. What’s more, it was an institutional campaign seemingly implemented and enforced by aggressive, almost bully boy methods and anyone who dared protest was pursued and dealt with, be it cyclist, staff member of journalist.

If you look at how the behaviour of  the teams of Armstrong evolved over the years, a pattern of increasing paranoia is evident. This increased paranoia is almost understandable behaviour and can be compared to anyone involved in long term illegal activity.

My sadness is born from becoming aware that it is possible for a person to perpetuate such a lie for so long and do so aggressively and assertively while cutting down the careers and lives of anyone who sort to challenge the legitimacy of what was being achieved.

Would it make any difference now if Lance came out and confessed all – I don’t think so. It may appease Lamond, Landis and many others but to normal fans like me, I don’t think it matters any more. It is too late.

I am fan of pro cycling and will continue to be. I want to believe in the cleanliness of the sport as evidenced these past 2 or so years. I also want to believe that such a systemic doping program as that in play at US Postal could never occur again – I just need some time to be convinced of this. I would also like to be confident in the drug testing science and that it will actually catch cheaters.

A part of me is uncomfortable with the evidence against Armstrong being testimony and not science based. I should add, that my discomfort is not so much with the Armstrong case but with where this could go in the future. For example, could several cyclists with a grudge to bear against another make baseless allegations? I like the science and perhaps the main challenge for the UCI and others is to convince us the science is solid.

Finally, I am still wearing the Livestrong arm band however I do so and want to continue to do so for what it means to me, which is primarily why I have worn it these last 4 years anyway. Sadly, I am already being challenged about why I am still wearing it.

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