Andrea: "Unhappy is the land that breeds no hero."
Galileo: "No, Andrea: Unhappy is the land that needs a hero." -Bertolt Brecht, The Life of Galileo
Poor, poor, pitiful America.
Are we so desperate for heroes that we must ignore the human frailties and deceptions of a simple athlete? Do we need to believe in mythology more than what we know to be true?
The Lance Armstrong story was as American as a Chevrolet commercial. Raised by a single mom of modest means, he found focus and determination to make her proud, and astonish competitors who rode, ran, and even swam in his races. Armstrong was possessed of a steely will and discipline that transcended his years. His training regimen was absurd and left mortals in its wake.
The rising arc of Lance Armstrong was beautiful; even his name had an all-American sound. His face was destined for Wheaties boxes and TV spots. Hard work and vision were once more proved to deliver ample rewards. Politicians pointed at Lance and used him as an example of how perfect was the American dream; just work, son, try hard, and you will not fail. Look at Lance. America respects effort and if you are alone and poor and ignored and in the ditch you simply aren't trying. America doesn't fail; people fail. Lance was the everyman icon for accomplishment and effort.
He also appears to have cheated. And lied.
Armstrong did the 6-hour training rides and avoided fatty foods and slept well and stuck with a training program designed to deliver him to greatness. According to the evidence in the USADA case just made public, however, Lance also used blood doping transfusions, EPO, testosterone, and almost any other substance he could put in his body to give him the advantage of fast recovery and high performance. Armstrong, who has said repeatedly that he has passed 500 drug tests, appears to have never taken more than 60, and there were failures, according to USADA's brief delivered to the international cycling organization UCI. In his continual denial of cheating, the superstar of the U.S. Postal team has turned his back on 11 of his teammates, including George Hincapie, who was his general through seven Tour de France victories and is considered the gentleman of the sport.
Armstrong still wants everyone to believe in what the evidence makes clear is a myth. His latest legal counsel issued a public statement describing the 1000 pages of documentation and teammate testimony as a kind of orchestrated hatchet job on Lance. There is something pathological about Armstrong's clinging to a reality that is manufactured in his mind and only he continues to believe. He knows what transpired as well as his teammates but he remains in denial or thinks he can ignore the facts. Are all 11 of his teammates lying to destroy him? Is Lance the only honest man in the peloton? In an interview with a triathlon magazine over the past weekend, Armstrong said he wasn't paying any more attention to the controversy and that the investigation was "their drama, not mine." This, too, now feels as untrue as every Tour de France he won. He must live with what he did, the deceptions and cheating the testimony claims he organized, which, if Armstrong is human, will eventually consume and harm him the way it did his teammates like Tyler Hamilton and Frankie Andreu.
Andreu's career riding beside the Texas legend was cut short when he was at Armstrong's side during cancer treatment. His wife, Betsy Andreu, told investigators that Frankie and she heard Lance tell his doctors about the performance-enhancing drugs he used because physicians needed to know to develop a treatment protocol. Armstrong denied the incident ever occurred but Betsy refused to retract the story. Frankie's riding career was shortened because of the truth telling while Armstrong characterized Betsy as obsessed and jealous. Instead, she was correct, and courageous. The case file from USADA complements her story.
The larger questions are now before the rest of us who love sport and honor excellence. Lance knows the truth, regardless of his denouncing it. His teammates have all spoken to the facts. But we are all confronted with what to make of this story. Armstrong is a hero in the cancer community and has inspired millions to get on their bikes and seek fitness. Here in Austin, which the cyclist considers his home, the community is sharply divided. Supporters constantly suggest that the government has wasted money by investigating athletes and has more important issues to manage or they argue it doesn't matter because Lance has accomplished a lot of good with his Lance Armstrong Foundation. Critics argue Armstrong ought not to get a reprieve by "raising the magic cancer shield" to protect himself from scrutiny for cheating and lying.
In one sense, Armstrong continues to outsmart anyone who might still be wondering about the truth. What he knows about America is what we all know and that is simply we prefer to believe in fairy tales and heroes. Nobody wants Lance to be the liar the evidence details. We need him to be Lance Armstrong, All-American Boy, the kid from the single parent home who rode up Ventoux like he was pedaling to the corner store and made us ponder silly notions like American exceptionalism. We convinced ourselves that even as most of the riders in the peloton were shown to be cheating the Texas kid was clean and could still outride the guys with drugs swimming in their veins. Lance knows that as long as he refuses to make confession that his fans and followers will continue to believe in the magical myth he has written, and sponsors will keep writing him checks and donors will send money to his foundation. There is, however, no longer much doubt about what happened.
A false idol has fallen.
Also at: http://www.moorethink.com
Follow James Moore on Twitter: www.twitter.com/moorethink