He should have gone down as one of the most legendary sportsmen of his generation, fit to stand alongside Zinedine Zidane, Jonah Lomu, Sir Steve Redgrave and Stephen Hendry among the most dominant sportsmen of his era.
Instead, when I talk to my kids about the heroes I grew up watching, Lance Armstrong will be notable only by his absence. He is destined to be an afterthought, an outcast, condemned to stand alongside the likes of Marion Jones and Ben Johnson among the most famous dopers in sporting history.
The titan of cycling has been torn from his saddle. The legend, it appears, is dead.
But for the other side of Lance Armstrong, there was more at stake than his competitive accolades.
Armstrong’s recent announcement that he would no longer fight the US Anti-Doping Agency’s accusations – namely, that he used banned substances throughout his career – was out of character but far from out of the blue. An irrepressible competitor during his storied career, Armstrong finally seems to have swapped his doggedness for realism in an interminable court battle he appeared destined to lose.
There was, however, good reason behind the withdrawal.
The Texan’s reasoning hinged around his strong feeling that the arbitration process was biased. “If I thought for one moment that by participating in USADA’s process, I could confront these allegations in a fair setting and – once and for all – put these charges to rest, I would jump at the chance,” he said in the press conference announcing his decision.
“But I refuse to participate in a process that is so one-sided and unfair.”
Using this logic, it must be assumed that to commit to fighting the case, Armstrong would have had to be prepared to follow it through to the bitter end. Whatever the outcome of the initial trial may have been, there were several appeal options available for Armstrong and his legal team, including the Court of Arbitration for Sport and the Swiss legal system, as the home of the International Cycling Union.
USADA CEO Travis Tygart, who has been front and centre throughout the organisation’s prosecution of Armstrong, predictably disagreed with the latter’s accusations. Declaring that the USADA would exercise its rights to erase Armstrong’s competitive record – including his unparalleled Tour de France successes – and impose a lifetime ban, Tygart firmly denied the cycling legend’s assertions of bias.
“The evidence against Lance Armstrong arose from disclosures made to USADA by more than a dozen witnesses who agreed to testify and provide evidence about their first-hand experience and/or knowledge of the doping activity of those involved in the USPS Conspiracy as well as analytical data,” he said. “As part of the investigation Mr. Armstrong was invited to meet with USADA and be truthful about his time on the USPS team but he refused.”
Instead, Armstrong has spared himself, his fans and his legacy years of court wrangling and mud-slinging which could have destroyed his reputation and his public image of a cancer survivor who has poured his wealth and energy into fundraising brands (the Livestrong brand) and cancer charities.
By appealing, Armstrong chose to be pragmatic. He knows his decision will condemn him in the eyes of many, casting doubt on his achievements and sullying that legendary status as one of the outstanding sportsmen of his generation. Armstrong the competitor will likely always resent that public judgement. Armstrong the philanthropist has decided it is a necessary price to pay.
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