Sunday, January 27, 2013

Lance let us down

Lance Armstrong. The name once synonymous with cycling superstar, cancer survivor, LIVESTRONG founder and seven-time Tour de France champion will now, for many, simply mean liar, cheater, doper and disappointment.

Prior to Lance’s confession, Ironman Triathlon World Champion Craig ‘Crowie’ Alexander commented on cycling’s long history of doping and paints the picture of a young, promising athlete who gave up college to pursue professional cycling only to be faced with the dilemma of doping to remain competitive and retain sponsors, or not doping and surrendering his dreams. But Lance had a choice and he chose to hitch his future to the “if you can’t beat them, join them,” wagon and, as a result, has paid the ultimate price in terms of  his reputation, his Tour de France titles, and a lifetime ban on professional racing. Perhaps what Crowie means to suggest is that you shouldn’t judge someone until you have walked in his shoes?

But consider the message Lance’s choice sends to young athletes: that winning is the most important thing, that you should win at all costs, and that it’s impossible to win without doping. To beg absolution on the grounds that “everyone else is doing it” is no excuse. In fact, in response to that same adolescent lament, don’t we ask our kids, “If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you?” Given the so-called heroes we put on a pedestal today, should we be surprised when our kids answer yes? Shouldn’t we be teaching our children that honesty and integrity are more important than winning, and that while physical prowess is subject to the ills of age and injuries, virtues such as intelligence and education are forever? Shouldn’t we all be idolizing and celebrating the likes of Steve Jobs and Bill and Melinda Gates over the Ray Lewises and Michael Vicks of the world?

The unraveling of Lance’s career comes at a time when Lance was on the cusp of branching out into the world of triathlon. His anticipated participation in the 2012 Ironman World Championships drew athletes like Crowie back from the brink of retirement just for the chance to compete against him. Lance Armstrong could have been the best thing to happen to triathlon, his celebrity and fame certain to shine the limelight on a sport that is still largely relegated to the sidelines, and usher it into the mainstream.

Lance’s involvement in triathlon also could have been the worst thing to happen to the sport if it meant he was bringing his lying, cheating, doping ways with him. That’s not to say I’m na├»ve enough to believe that doping is non-existent in triathlon but, at least for now, I can still hope and believe it is limited to the few, the shameless, and the desperate.  

Lance made a mistake and he was caught. Had he come clean and fessed up, he may have been more readily forgiven, for to err is human. But lying about it only served to further soil and tarnish a name that had once shined so brightly. 

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