Monday, October 22, 2012

Fallen Heros - changing stories

oct 22

It's a sad day for cycling fans. Today, the International Cycling Union ended the Lance Armstrong saga.  There will be no more appeals.  The ICU has found sufficient evidence to prove that Armstrong doped during his record-breaking 7 consecutive wins of the Tour de France.  As a result, he has been issued a lifetime ban from competitive cycling for life and has been stripped of his Tour de France titles.

I don't know what to think.  I'm a cycling fan in the original sense of the word - a fanatic following the progress of the grand tours and the daily classics. But the Tour is my first and favorite. Come July, you'll find me glued to the TV for every hour of coverage. I started watching the year after Lance had his first win and became hooked, in part, because of his dominance of the event.  For those years, the Tour was Armstong's event. His training regime was legendary, his knowledge of the sport's strategy undisputed, and his control of the field complete. And, of course, there was the inspirational story of his comeback from cancer especially with all the assertions of riding clean.

That is where many of his supporters now feel a sense of betrayal.  We all wanted to believe in the power of hard work and dedication, believe in the possibility of the human spirit to overcome seemingly impossible challenges.  And we wanted to believe in Lance Armstrong riding clean.

When the talk started in recent weeks about another investigation, my first reaction was that they should be leaving it in the past.  Armstrong hasn't won since the 2005 Tour and not ridden since his second retirement in 2010.  He has been tested countless times with no positive results.  Sure, he always had his detractors but supporters pointed to his training routine and single-minded focus on the one major event.  And there were all those spot checks.  Why, I wondered, do they need to go after him again?  Why can't they leave it in the past and focus on cleaning up the sport in the future?

But as it becomes painfully clear that he was involved in some level of drug use, the question becomes more of how it important it is to the future of the sport to ensure the cheaters of the past are punished.

I still don't know what to think.  I wonder whether this news will dampen enthusiasm for the sport of cycling, especially for the Tour de France.  I also wonder if it will damage the work of LiveStrong, an important organization that supports those whose lives are affected by cancer.  I hope neither of those happens in the long term but some immediate negativity is probably inevitable. I have seen and heard many reporters suggest that the fall of Armstrong is different than of many other fallen sport heros because of his status.

Officially, Tour records will now show no winner for 7 years.  But anyone who watched during those years will remember Lance's iconic moments - his first post-cancer win, the time trial on l'Alpe d'Huez, the impromptu field crossing, the strength of his teams, 'the Look', his reigning in of breakaway riders, and so many more.  Regardless of official rulings, he was amazing to watch on the race.  And the power of his achievement coming back from his cancer can not be denied.  But now, all that will be tainted with today's official ruling.

It's a sad day for cycling fans.

What do you think?

Should there be a statute of limitations for past violations or is it important for sports to punish past violations?  Is there a time for leaving the stories of hope and triumph or is it more damaging to leave untested? What will this mean to cycling - and to LiveStrong?  Is Armstong's fall different than other fallen athletes?

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