by Lindsey Beakes
In the world of sports, there is a fine line between athletes and legends. Those who break records, rise to fame and stand out are often considered a type of celebrity in our world. Lance Armstrong was without a doubt considered a legend in the world of sports.
On both a national and international level, Armstrong was a household name. Having won the Tour de France seven consecutive times from 1999 to 2005, even after coming back from a fight with testicular cancer, he solidified a spot in the cycling upper echelon and the hearts of fans.
When athletes such as Armstrong make that cross into the world of legendary, we begin to associate them with different standards in our minds.
For so many people all over the world, Armstrong was more than just a cyclist with extreme talent. He was the face of his charity and brand, Livestrong, and an inspiration to victims of cancer far and wide.
He was looked up to so much, that when charges were filed against him claiming the star athlete had been using illegal performance enhancing drugs, his fans stood behind him.
The USADA recently submitted its 1,000-page report to both the International Cycling Union and the World Anti-Doping Agency.
The report included testimonies from 11 former teammates of Armstrong’s from both the US Postal Service and Discovery Channel cycling teams, testimonies from 15 other witnesses and an expert blood test complete with scientific data and documents that include payments to a doctor who is known for his association with doping.
After Armstrong did not contest this report from the USADA, the UCI held a news conference about the athlete, announcing that the cycling legend has been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned from the sport for life.
What is being called “the most sophisticated,professionalized and successful doping programme sports has ever seen” claims the cyclist used blood transfusion and illegal drugs to win his seven titles. The report has the retired cyclist in the crossfire of a current controversial media storm.
There are those who still credit the athlete with giving the sport of cycling notoriety in the United States, as well as hope to cancer victims. Armstrong’s partnership with Nike to market the famous yellow Livestrong bracelets helped to raise more than $400 million for the charity. To many fans, the struggle Armstrong faced and what he did to help those with cancer after the fact is still very relevant.
Then, there is the argument that, as a legend in the minds of many, did we hold Armstrong to a higher standard? Are people so disappointed mainly because he was so successful?
To a certain extent, this is true. Winning the Tour de France seven times is an unheard of and extraordinary feat. People want to believe that Armstrong did this because of determination and talent. The athlete was very much a symbol of possibility.
He was a hero for beating not only cancer, but all elite cyclists all over the world. He gave people hope. With allegations of using performance-enhancing drugs, Armstrong loses some of that sparkle that came with his circumstances. Frankly, he disappoints those fans that discredit him because they want to believe people can be great on their own, even in the face of cancer.
International cycling officials have announced that, for the era of Armstrong’s reign, no replacement winners will be named. The top three finishers in each of those seven years have been linked to doping in some way, whether by their own admission or not. What exactly does this say about the nature of the sport?
What it means is that Armstrong, however in the wrong he may be, was not engaging in illegal practices on his own. It means that this is the nature of the sport, and that is a sad fact. Blood doping for cycling has become equivalent with steroid use in baseball. It is something of an unspoken fact. I think the difference is that no one wanted to believe that Lance Armstrong was a part of this pack. People look at him and believe he is superhuman, someone who would never need drugs to enhance his performance because he was just that good.
I’m not sure what the findings by the USADA or the announcements from the UCI will do to affect those who believe in the legend. From this point on, there will be two camps, either in favor of Armstrong’s talent or in disgust of his actions. I do believe, however, that this incident will forever leave cycling and sports fans even more skeptical of the talent that is out there.
The icing on the cake, along with being banned from the sport, stripped of his titles and forced to pay back all prizes, is that Armstrong has lost his endorsement deals with Nike, Oakley, Trek Bikes, Giro Helmets, 24-Hour Fitness and Anheuser-Busch.
His image has been removed from the packaging of products from Honey Stinger and FRS, since both were companies in which Armstrong had a stake.
These companies believed they were endorsing and supporting an image of hope, possibility and inspiration.
Many of Armstrong’s former supporters will continue to give support to the Livestrong foundation because they believe in what it stands for aside from Armstrong’s alleged professional slip-ups.
What the American public will do now—besides caring less about cycling—is separate Armstrong the cancer survivor from Armstrong the elite, winning cyclist, ideas that have been synonymous in the minds of his fans.