Lance Armstrong will always be a US idol

PHIL HAMILTON
Last updated 05:00 28/08/2012
LEGACY: Lance Armstrong might be guilty of doping in some people's eyes - but he's still an inspiration for others.
Reuters
LEGACY: Lance Armstrong might be guilty of doping in some people's eyes - but he's still an inspiration for others.

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OPINION: So finally after all these years of denial, Lance Armstrong has simply picked up his bike and gone home.

By declining to fight the charges from the US Anti-Doping Agency, the process is clear and he will eventually be stripped of his seven Tour de France titles along with his bronze Olympic medal.

In similar spirit to the child being beaten who leaves with his bat and ball, Armstrong proclaimed the doping charges part of an “unconstitutional witch hunt” and said he was tired of fighting them and would do it no longer.

It's a cynical strategy and one that will work, at least in America.

Armstrong is an iconic athlete in the US because of his story of surviving cancer and the resulting foundation which has raised almost US$500 million for cancer research.

Americans generally fall into two categories when it comes to Armstrong.

The first and larger group is those who hero-worship and refuse to accept that he was assisted by drugs. They point to the hundreds of passed drugs tests, as does Armstrong.

They simply dismiss the evidence of the parade of former team-mates as tainted because they have admitted their own drug use. The second is those who acknowledge he was a drugs cheat but don't care.

Their attitude is that cycling is a dirty sport and Armstrong was simply part of a culture where it was acceptable to take any shortcut possible.

It's a view that has some logic given that every champion, except Carlos Sastre in 2008, over a 15-year period from 1996 to 2010 has since been discredited. There is a clear double-standard at work here because this is far from the view taken in baseball.

Many of the players who juiced are held in contempt and prominent sports writers have said they will never vote them into the Hall of Fame. But it is different for cycling because it is seen as a foreign sport so cheating in it doesn't seem to be taken as seriously.

Armstrong is gambling that his decision to give up fighting the charges will not change anyone's opinion of him and he is most likely right.

Nike have said they will continue to support his foundation and donations have soared with the news proving the adage that all publicity is good publicity.

Although Greg LeMond was the first American to win the Tour de France it was Armstrong who gave the race its profile in America. To most Americans, Armstrong is the Tour de France and the actions of a government bureaucracy are not going to change that.

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Certainly the Tour de France was rife with drugs during Armstrong's era and it's hard to disagree that it was effectively a level playing field among the top riders. It doesn't make his comeback story any less inspirational.

But this doesn't excuse the way he has aggressively defended himself by going after former team-mates (and their wives) who have simply told the truth while under oath in court.

Last week he was Lance Armstrong: cancer survivor, seven-time Tour de France winner and philanthropist.

Now he is Lance Armstrong: philanthropist, drug cheat and sporting fraud.

- Canterbury

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