Lance Armstrong completed his free fall from the pantheon of the cycling world this week.
The action taken by the International Cycling Union to issue a lifetime competitive cycling ban and strip Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles leaves him at the bottom. The ICU took this course after the publication of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s report — 1,000 pages of testimony and details about Armstrong’s drug use — a portrait that peels away the carefully crafted image he had built of a champion, one who overcame all kinds of odds, including cancer.
It was a story of determination and survival that had caught the attention not just of fans of this particular sport but of all kinds of people. From his cancer fight and triumph, he created Livestrong, the foundation that has raised about $500 million in the fight against cancer. And if Armstrong proudly wore the medals for his Tour de France wins, millions of others were wearing the yellow “Livestrong” bracelets, a symbol for cancer awareness and survival.
While Armstrong continues to deny the doping, he did decide to step down as Livestrong’s chairman, realizing that his prominent position with the foundation at this time would only do more damage than good.
We hope that is true. But it will be hard for people to separate this aspect of Armstrong’s story with what the USADA uncovered the injections of Erythropoietin, the performance-enhancing drug known as EPO, illegal blood transfusions and the testimony of former teammates of the extent to which this cycling champion went in his doping and the cover-up.
Where once he appeared to be a stand-up guy, someone liked and respected by teammates, in reality it appears that he bullied those around him to ensure their silence.
It’s a sad story, one that doesn’t have to end this way.
But until Armstrong is willing to be frank and honest with himself and the public about his doping, there won’t be a chance for redemption. And that just makes this fall from grace even harder.