The governors of bicycling have wiped out Lance Armstrong's seven straight Tour de France titles in the continuing effort by sports authorities to rewrite history. Now in the Tour records there is a seven-year gap, one year longer than the hole left by World War Two during which the Tour was not run at all. Historians may one day look back at the Tour records and wonder if there was a third world war they somehow missed.
Punishing the cheaters who won sporting events is difficult. Cycling can't take back the money Armstrong earned through his fame, so they are reduced to taking back the one thing they can, his victories. The problem is that the races were run and, juiced or not, Armstrong won them. But changing the record is a way for a sport to say, "Look, we're clean."
Sports history has had some major rewrites in recent years. The NCAA took away 13 years of Penn State's football wins to punish the school for not stopping a child-molesting assistant coach. In order to punish a school that worshipped football above common decency, the NCAA decided to collectively punish all the football players who knew nothing about it at the time. Penn State deserved a good smack, and got it, along with a $60 million fine. The trouble is, there are hundreds of people who played in those games millions who saw them.
And USC, in punishment for its Reggie Bush scandal, also retroactively lost 13 games, including a win over Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. It was on television, it happened.
Marion Jones, the Olympic sprinter, had to give back five medals she won with the aid of chemistry. But she ran and we have pictures of her with the medals around her neck. And anyone who saw it would also remember the Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson, his steroidal muscles rippling like water, setting the world record for the 100 meters in the 1987 Olympics. According to Olympic records, that never happened either.
In the case of Lance Armstrong, anyone with a bit of knowledge of athletics should have looked askance at his seven Tour victories. Physical achievements like that should always come with an asterisk referring to a footnote that says, "Amazing, but suspicious." Armstrong was at the top at the same time there was an inexplicable spike in the number of home runs being hit in major league baseball. Was it because there were wonderful developments in nutrition? Professional baseball and bicycling both had to know it was doping and drugs.
The stories that people like Lance Armstrong and Barry Bonds bring to their sports are too seductive for their governing bodies to stay chaste.
Barry Bonds had America collectively counting as he chased the home run record. It was great for America's fading pastime. And hardly anyone in the country cared about bicycling or the Tour de France until Lance Armstrong. The sport rode right along with Lance and they absolutely knew how he got to the finish line first.
It is impossible to erase what really happened. Lance Armstrong won those seven races. In the rewrite of Armstrong's records the sport of cycling would have you believe they are punishing the perfidy of their greatest rider, while what they really want is for the world to forget their own.