Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Last Days Of Lance Armstrong

      He stood in the middle of Kansas with the entire country around him. But then ... oops, evidence surfaced....California slipped into the ocean. Followed by more evidence... Maine and New Hampshire dropped off the map. And then more evidence. There goes Oregon. Then Florida. As more and more facts surfaced, the country that elevated him fell away. Today, Lance is surrounded by only his posse. Or in this analogy, an acre of supporters. This week, almost all of his sponsors dropped away. Soon, the posse will collapse. And Lance will be standing on a rock where Kansas used to be. Lance Armstrong has denied using performance enhancing drugs to win his seven Tours de France. Now we see the fabric unraveling. We see the mountain of evidence, and we now know that he was the kingpin of an extensive organized crime ring involving the governing body, sponsors, trainers, and a cast of thousands.

     It could have been different.

     Lance could have come clean right from the start when the first serious allegations came out. It would have saved all of this trouble from happening. America forgives and forgets very easily. He could have avoided all this. Instead, the Texan in him - the brashness that drew attention to him in the first place - dug in his heals and held his ground - fooled into believing that the people he bullied would remain silent, and that those who feared his powerful wrath would leave him alone. He was also fooled into believing that the fortress he had built around him would hold back the advancing mob. Had he come clean immediately, his entire persona would have been elevated further. He would have been made the patron saint of forgiveness. And we would have moved on.

     It could have been altogether different.

     As outlined in David Walsh's book 'From Lance to Landis', Armstrong's ego couldn't take losing to European farm boys. He had dominated the American scene as a clean rider, but when he made the jump to European racing, he got has ass handed to him. That's when "the program" began in earnest. Lance emerged as a Tour contender in 1999, one year after the Festina Affair, a drug scandal involving a French team at the TdF. Lance came along as a cancer survivor with the personality and panache of a Bernard Hinault, and the UCI saw the opportunity to present a new and cleaner image to the world. 'Look what we have done. We have entered a new era in sport. We have a new hero.' (Actually, I think the UCI was caught with their pants down when Lance won the '99 TdF. They didn't have the technology to catch him, and after the huge response by the cancer survivor community, they didn't dare try.)  Now we're learning that the reality was completely foul. The drug problem was made worse than ever. Lance, quickly capitalizing financially on his 'success' and the popularity of his cause, suddenly had the means to become the mob boss of cycling.

    It should have been different.

    Maybe I'm an idealistic fool who still believes in honesty, but it seems to me that if I had super powers (other than my sense of humor and my Tortilla Soup recipe), I would use them for good not evil. Lance's super powers are his intense personality, fearlessness, and his amazing athletic ability. He could have used them for good. Instead of going to the dark side and delving into the drug world, why didn't he use his brashness, fearlessness, cockiness, and powerful riding to destroy the Omerta from within? Demand that they race clean. Call them out. Challenge them. Change the world.

     If anyone could have done it, it was the Lance freakin' Armstrong that I knew before the drugs. He was a superior athlete with an ass whoopin' personality. That's a Texan that we could all respect. I saw it with my own eyes almost every weekend as an announcer in 1991-92-93. He was a specimen of confidence and heart. He despised losing. He did amazing things on the bike to prevent it. He took no shit from anyone. He was awesome.

      Instead, he took the lowest road possible and drove it to the end of the earth.

      The problem here is more than a question about simply using drugs. He has railroaded innocent people, ruined careers, shattered opportunities, squashed dreams, stolen monies, and generally f***ed everything up for an entire sport.

     And it didn't have to be that way.