For so many years, Lance Armstrong has been a global icon. A true international superstar; he is a sporting legend, a multiple-time world champion cyclist, a media mogul, one of the world’s foremost philanthropists, and a medical miracle cancer survivor. A truly amazing legacy. And now it seems we must add to that list the perhaps most notorious user of performance-enhancing drugs of all time.
Allegations of PED use have plagued Armstrong for years, essentially since his return to cycling after surviving testicular cancer in 1998. For over a decade, Armstrong has categorically denied all charges made against him. Near-misses prominently included his 1999 positive test that was explained through a cream for saddle sores, despite the testimony of his masseuse. In 2005, French authorities re-opened allegations during the 1999 Tour de France using a new series of drug tests. However, samples preserved for research could not be sufficiently identified as Armstrong’s.
Then this past year, new allegations of doping during the 2010-2012 season emerged when cyclist and teammate of Armstrong, Floyd Landis, confessed to doping along with Armstrong and others in 2002 and 2003. Additionally, Landis accused U.S. Postal team management of bribing Union Cycliste Internationale (the world cycling governing body) to look the other way. More teammates, including Tyler Hamilton, also came forward to the media and admitted to doping with Armstrong. Armstrong and his lawyers have aggressively denied charges throughout, alleging conspiracy on the behalf of disgruntled ex-teammates and the and a media witch hunt. Yet despite a U.S. federal prosecution’s criminal investigation, no charges were ever filed. Perhaps, many still hoped, this was all a goose chase and Armstrong is the flawless hero we’ve always believed.
Then in August of 2012, The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency stripped Armstrong of his world-record seven Tour de France titles. They claimed after their own long-running investigation, the evidence against Armstrong was “overwhelming” and that the action was necessary. After over a decade of battling the USADA charges, Armstrong said he would no longer fight their charges while maintaining his innocence. The UCI and the rest of the world waited for the USADA’s overwhelming evidence to become public.
On October 10, 2012, that evidence was released. Available to all is the 1,100 page USADA Investigation into the U.S. Postal Service Team. As its beginning summary states, “The evidence shows beyond any doubt that the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team ran the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.”
The report paints a picture of not just a few incidents of doping, but an enterprise of coercion and conspiracy spearheaded by and for Armstrong. Doctors, team staff, trainers, teammates, family and friends, and Armstrong himself all conspired to create a culture and system of doping and evading detection for years. The report includes affidavits from the following list of riders: Frankie Andreu, Michael Barry, Leonardo Bertagnolli, Volodymyr Bileka, Tom Danielson, Tyler Hamilton, George Hincapie, Jörg Jaksche, Floyd Landis, Levi Leipheimer, Filippo Simeoni, Stephen Swart, Christian Vande Velde, Jonathan Vaughters, and David Zabriskie. An unbelievable list.
Yet through it all, Armstrong and his lawyer Timothy Herman continue to categorically deny all allegations. They hang their hat on the more than 500 negative test they claim Armstrong as submitted to over the years, and label all who testify against him “serial perjurers.” The problem is, the scope of the scheme the USADA report give evidence against is such that fraudulent samples and compromised testing integrity wouldn’t just be possible – it would be mandatory.
In the wake of the USADA report and the impact it has had on public opinion, Armstrong has resigned his position as Chairman of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, better known as Livestrong. Nike, who famously stood behind Tiger Woods during his public controversy, has dropped Armstrong’s sponsorship and severed ties.
Lance Armstrong is a man who is defined, carried, and heavily burdened by his massive legacy. So much adversity faced and overcome. So much victory. So much good work done through charity. So much responsibility. So much pressure. So much depending on continuing that legacy and those victories. What Armstrong and his co-conspirators did was wrong, for the sake of a legacy that for so long had defined what is right and what is good and what is admirable.