People assume that I’m a big Lance Armstrong fan and it’s easy for me to see why that presumption is made. Maybe it’s because I read, and have on my bookshelf, 2 Armstrong books, It’s Not About the Bike (that one’s yours John, I’ve just had it for 9 years) and Every Second Counts. Maybe it’s because I have a plaque-mounted poster in my room of Armstrong, during the Tour de France, riding solo toward the end of a stage. That was a poster my parents gave me/put up in my hospital room in St. John’s in September 2003, after arriving from Victoria, while the bone flap in my skull was being replaced, and while I waited, not for a bed to open up at the rehab hospital. There are friends signatures on the white border, along with short, encouraging notes many about getting out of ‘here’ and ‘being better in no time’.
My Lance Armstrong fandom was/is a reasonable assumption (but we all know what happens when you make an assumption), but is not entirely accurate. I was a fan of his cycling and I like what he has done for an issue so important to him (Livestrong and the Lance Armstrong Foundation). I have watched the Tour de France (TDF), but only the TDF, not other cycling races, since I was a teenager. I vaguely remember being excited about the Canadian Steve Bauer in the early 1990’s and Miguel Indurain winning 5 in a row, his climbing ability and his low heart rate (his resting heart rate was 28 bpm). I only really became interested during the summer of 2001 when I was cycling to my job 5 days a week and there was the possibility of cycling across Canada the following summer. That was during the Armstrong’s reign as Tour de France champion and I was actively rooting for him. As I watched cycling more, I began to cheer for other riders – Ivan Basso and Alexander Vinokourov – later, Basso served a 2 year suspension for admitting he had planned to dope and Vinokourov was suspended for doping, retired, and has since come back to win the 2012 Olympics road race gold.
I don’t know why I picked those 2 particular riders to support, but they were trying to win and they were obviously working their guts out to do it. In terms of me supporting them, their big ace-in-the-hole is that they weren’t Armstrong. That said, I wasn’t cheering against him; if he won, that was fine, but I was cheering against the media. I had no problem with Armstrong winning, but I was determined to be contrarian and I wanted someone else to win, and they had a good shot. Most people in North America had never heard of Armstrong before 1999. Then, the media swooned and gushed over the next 13 years at the very mention of his name. The sports media quickly, even immediately, change their rhetoric from ‘great athlete’ to ‘great person’ and now it’s biting them in the ass because there is also the urge to move from ‘suspicious’ to ‘guilty’ just as swiftly. The sports media tend to jump the gap from measured analysis of the athlete, to laudatory praise or shame-ridden guilt of a human, then begin construction of a bridge, allowing the rest of society to take a carefree stroll to the same conclusion.
Frankly, the whole thing is ludicrous. I don’t even know where to start. Armstrong turns 41 in 3 weeks. He’s not going to race again – seriously anyway. He probably will at a charity event or something. He was clean for all of his drug tests when he was racing. They’ve built a huge case against him that, for all we as the public know, is based on hearsay. We love it though. A hero, someone who thought he was so great, is a fraud. He was probably doing it all along. He’s probably a jerk too!
Everyone needs to take a breath, have a cookie and a chai latte and relax for a minute. Relax. Don’t just sit there, steaming and staring. My gut is telling me: What did you expect? The guy won 7 TDFs in a row, even while the other great athletes of the sport were doping? These were other amazing athletes whose blood, lungs and muscles work at peak efficiency, but Armstrong was beating them 7 times in a row? There are red flags everywhere!
My head is telling me: The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) have been pursuing this for years, seemingly convinced already, just needing proof. It seems that suspicion and constantly accusing someone is all the proof you need. Armstrong said he was so weary from having to clear his name that he just stopped contesting the doping allegations. USADA, and now their public, has taken this to mean he’s got something to hide – his privacy maybe?. I don’t know whether he doped or not. I have my suspicions that he did, but that’s all they are. WADA and USADA have a lot more knowledge about this than almost anybody else and God knows they’ve put work into it, but can’t the rest of us admit we don’t know? It’s okay not to know. It’s actually kind of liberating.