Faced with charges of using blood-booster EPO, steroids, testosterone and cortisone in all his seven Tour de France winning races, champion cyclist Lance Armstrong, in a shocking move, has refused to contest these allegations put on him by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). And though he never directly admitted to have used any such unfair advantage, his silence is considered as a confession of guilt.
Such a move on his part has greatly appalled his fan following and the sporting community in general. For a man who won a nearly impossible battle against cancer and constantly withstood the onslaught of doping charges in the past, giving up at the end of his career has raised questions over his entire sporting foundation. And albeit many of his supporters consider him a victim of atrocious claims and unjustified charges, testimony of 10 riders and several other witnesses with evidence were enough to impose on him a lifetime ban on competitive cycling and strip him of his seven Tour de France titles.
But what made Lance Armstrong take no further action? One lost federal appeal later, why would he simply decline to refute the charges put on him by the anti-doping agency? In his interviews, he expressed of being tired of fighting these allegations time and time again, and saying “enough is enough”. Now, it is true that he has been a constant target of doping charges throughout his sporting career, and many agree that competitive cycling is fraught with the usage of banned substances. But for a person like Armstrong, giving up at this juncture would have serious ramifications not only over the legitimacy of his entire sporting foundation, but also for those millions who idolise him as a role model, be it budding cyclists or cancer patients.
In October 1996, Armstrong was diagnosed with Stage 3 testicular cancer, which spread rapidly and soon reached his lungs and his brain. Doctors gave him a 40 percent chance of survival. But he continued his treatment with perseverance and faith, and by the end of the year his cancer was in complete remission. His triumph over this dire and almost irrecoverable ailment infused courage into millions of cancer patients worldwide. He then went on and founded Livestrong, an institution dedicated to providing support for people battling cancer, and which to this day has amassed a whopping US$ 325 million for the cause. But in the wake of doping charges against the champion cyclist being validated, many of Livestrong’s sponsors have backed out and withdrew their support, leaving behind a crater in the financial hand of the institution. This apart from the sinking morale of those watching their paragon and exemplar in the world of cycling falling prey to doping accusations and yet not defending himself. Enthusiasm in competitive cycling has taken a setback. Parents now are less willing to give their children a go-ahead for a career in this sporting field.
Named the ABC Wide World of Sports Athlete of the Year in 1999, Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated in 2002, selected as the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year from 2002 to 2005 and presented the ESPY Award for Best Male Athlete from 2003 to 2006, Lance Armstrong remained the most prominent name in the world of cycling for more than a decade. His biggest victories to date are his seven Tour de France titles that he won in a career spanning 20 years. And yet, with these seven coveted titles at stake, all riding on his decision to oppose the accusations put on him by USADA, he chose to retreat. Now with the charges having been confirmed, he has been stripped of these titles and has been banned from competitive cycling for life. Always at the pinnacle of his career, the legacy of Lance Armstrong has now virtually been razed to the ground. Sporting gurus of today on the basis of USADA’s verdict call him a fraud and a cheat. This is definitely not how a long relentless pursuit to the peak of a competitive sport should have ended.
But what really is to be made out of Armstrong’s withdrawal? Is it guilt that necessitated such a course of action? Because if it was not, there was too much at stake for him to simply walk out of this fight. He should have persisted no matter the level of accusation. His actions don’t live up to his own self of 16 years earlier. Back then, there was a man who won an almost defeated battle. Now is a man who wouldn’t face one. And thus falling from the lofty vantages of success and prestige, Lance Armstrong did an Icarus.