We will never know whether Lance Armstrong, aka our modern day Icarus, had a personal Daedelus who tried to warn him in private not to fly too close to the sun.
It has been with slow motion incredulity that I have followed the horrible unraveling of the public mythology about former super cyclist Lance Armstrong. Such a sudden and public fall from grace in sports has only been rivaled in recent years by Tiger Woods’ sickening philandering, sex addiction and drug use while married with a gorgeous wife and small children at home.
We love our heroes, we need our heroes, and apparently our media outlets will do just about anything not to see and report on their failings.
The awful conclusion to this story has roots as far back as the late 1990s when two of Armstrong’s female associates discovered he was doping by literal close proximity and began trying to report what they knew to authorities. One of them was Betsy Andreu, who had been a close family friend of Armstrong’s for years before she discovered what he was doing. Her spouse, Frankie, was one of Lance’s teammates. She and Armstrong came to a parting of the ways when Betsy refused to lie about a conversation she witnessed between Lance and his doctor while he was being treated for cancer.
“Lance, holding his I.V., nonchalantly rattled off, ‘Yes, steroids, testosterone, growth hormone, E.P.O., cortisone,’” Andreu said. “My eyes popped out of my head. Frankie saw that I was upset and he excused ourselves and we left.”
Despite her disdain towards Armstrong, Andreu still maintains some sympathy for the fallen cyclist.
“On one hand, there is some compassion, because I don’t think he ever healed the child within. And it made him this diabolical person that he is today,” Andreu said.
Both women paid for their efforts at outing what was taking place for years by seeing their public reputations trampled. They became the victims of adolescent name calling and were even accused of being “whores” by Armstrong himself. They are the real heroes in all of this, if there any heroes left standing. Credit must be given to UCI as well for more than a decade of dogged investigation that finally routed out the truth.
Browsing the hundreds of comments which followed Rock Center’s airing of the special report on who knew what and when, it’s easy to see that about half of the male fans of Lance Armstrong still vehemently deny that he did anything wrong. Many commenters continued to name-call and villianize the women who first outed the truth. That part of the story is almost as sickening and peculiar as the story itself. That’s denial at it’s worst low point. That’s scary.
Cheating is cheating is cheating. There are no excuses that justify it. The lengths to which Armstrong went to keep his personal doping mafia going for more than a decade staggers the imagination. Diabolical is a word that is apt here. Dark cunning would be an understatement. Any criminal Don would have to admire the level of seamless sinister planning that went into such a well orchestrated and practically indiscernible fraud operation. As karma does always have the last laugh, in the end it was the eleven other Armstrong teammates themselves whose sworn testimony before UCI blew the lid off what they had been doing and how they had kept winning seven years in a row.
It turned out that these were men who literally could not live with themselves and what they had done as the wins kept coming and the years passed. They had some morsel of remaining moral integrity inside them that demanded the truth be told, the irritating pea in the mattress. And so they finally spoke out. Their grown children will thank them for this in decades to come. Their reputations will heal and their families can now move forward.
I still wonder how Lance pulled off such an epic fraud in the world of competitive sports for so many years. Admittedly at the very same time, I don’t really want to know much more about the sorry details. I learned along the way that “code words” were used, along with throw away cell phones. Jesus.
We are not living in an era where real human heroes necessarily prevail for very long. If we were, then cartoon characters would not be all over movie screens. Adults would not be dressing up as cartoon characters to pretend to be heroes, or much worse, dressing up as Batman to gun people down in a movie theatre. It becomes so darkly comical at times that the irony of it congeals.
Arnold Schwarzenegger took his own fall from public adoration just about a year ago. Our cardboard cut-out make-believe heroes continue to shrivel in the heat of the spotlight as their all too human failings are eventually exposed.
What Lance Armstrong did may have disillusioned millions of sports fans and robbed dozens of superior cyclists of their moment in the sun. But we all know the person he really robbed the most was himself, depriving his own soul of the glorious experience of discovering the kind of man he could have been without the chemical cocktails, the dope, and the decade of exhaustion rendered by trying to keep it all covered up.
The energy that Lance expended telling all those elaborate lies could have been re-directed into avenues of honest endeavors which would have stood the test of time. The shame was visible on the faces of his staffers standing behind him when he resigned from his own cancer charity. That’s not something which anyone bothered to try to Photoshop out of the scene. Those good people weren’t ashamed for themselves. They were ashamed for Lance Armstrong. That’s a very genuine reaction from people who have worked so hard for something they believe in when they discover the man they have believed in the most is a sham, not much more than a really handsome carny, a foolish high flying Icarus, a bonafide con man.