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Lloyd Glauberman, Ph.D.

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A Tale of Two Armstrongs: Neil and Lance

Posted: 09/02/2012 7:42 pm

Over the weekend of Aug. 25, Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, died at age 82. While Lance Armstrong, the greatest cyclist in history, gave up fighting the doping authorities, which led to the stripping of his seven Tour De France titles and a permanent ban from competition.

Neil Armstrong took the most dramatic step in human history. His footprint on the moon symbolizes, arguably, the crown jewel of America's scientific accomplishments: the space program. Given our country's ongoing economic and political turmoil, Neil's death gave us the opportunity to re-experience an inspiring and defining moment in America's history. Revisiting the first moon landing and hearing Armstrong's iconic words,"one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" was a much-needed reminder of the strength, potential and capability of this country.

For many years, Lance Armstrong symbolized a similar greatness. Like Neil, he was an American icon. His heroic stature as a cancer survivor coupled with his legendary athletic achievements placed him on a pedestal that no other athlete in history has ever occupied. He used his celebrity to establish the Livestrong Foundation, a charitable organization which has played a key role in the fight against cancer. If this were Lance's entire story, he would be worthy of Mount Rushmore. But it wasn't. And the most recent chapter of his story has permanently tarnished his reputation, stripping him both of his titles and his stature as an American hero. He decided not to fight the U.S. doping authority's allegations that he used performance-enhancing drugs stating, among other things, that he was "finished with this nonsense."

The idea that an innocent man, especially one as preternaturally competitive as Lance Armstrong, would surrender rather than fight to clear his name wasn't just implausible, it was impossible. To most, his behavior was an admission of guilt.

Even Lance, with his Godfather-like power within cycling and his PR machine working overtime couldn't stop the inevitable. The case against him had too much of everything -- people, events, drugs -- to defend against. The world of cycling was a chemistry lab and every rider experimented. It was a level playing field, but, nonetheless, it was cheating. And Lance was the ring leader. If there were a seismograph attached to his skull when he strategized with his team of lawyers, it would have registered ten on the Richter scale.

During the weekend of Aug. 25, the country mourned the loss of both Armstrongs -- Neil literally and Lance figuratively. While the images of Neil's accomplishments soared across the airwaves reinforcing his historical legacy, Lance was almost universally vilified. While Neil was immortalized in the pantheon of American heroes, Lance was stripped of both his integrity and cycling titles, leaving us with a sense of profound disappointment. A hero no more.

Neil Armstrong may very well be at peace, but as for Lance, I doubt he will ever experience a moment of peace the rest of his life.

 
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