Photo Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images
When heroes fall, they fall hard -- and it's their admirers who are left to pick up the pieces. Such is the case with Lance Armstrong, the champion cyclist who has finally admitted, in a forthcoming Oprah Winfrey interview, that he used performance-enhancing drugs to win his seven Tour De France titles. There's no more wondering whether the doping investigation was a "witch hunt," whether his accusers had a personal vendetta rather than hard evidence. Even Armstrong's most ardent fans are now retiring their Livestrong bracelets. Now, those admirers are left with a more unnerving question: Is he even sorry?
For ten years, Lance Armstrong -- the cancer survivor who became the world's greatest cyclist, as the legend goes -- has furiously denied accusations of doping. (Watch a video compilation below, via Buzzfeed.) "Denied" is, perhaps, too mild a word; he went on the offensive, suing media outlets that dared to suggest he used drugs, lying to federal investigators, and threatening (and slandering, and sometimes financially ruining) colleagues who dared to tell the truth about him.
"He fought accusations so hard, for so many years," Will Leitch, noted sports journalist and founder of Deadspin, tells iVillage. "He not only denied that he doped: he screamed that he didn't dope, and accused anyone who hinted at the notion of being a monster who just wanted to take him down."
Why, then, is Armstrong coming clean now? The reasons, sadly, appear to be more self-serving than not. Armstrong has nothing more to lose; in the face of overwhelming evidence against him, he had already been stripped of his titles and banned from cycling. However, he's not ready to stop competing. Reportedly, if he amends his confession by snitching on other athletes who doped (or officials who knowingly enabled the practice), he might be allowed to race again, or be allowed into sanctioned Ironman competitions (his current sport of choice). His admission could also be the first step in settling some of the many lawsuits that have been filed against him by former sponsors, including one from the U.S. Postal Service. Or, perhaps, it's a last-ditch attempt to look like a good guy. Or -- if you're even more cynical -- a plea for attention.
The fact of the matter is, doping is the least of Lance Armstrong's sins. Allegedly, he coerced and bullied his teammates into doing it, too, doing irreparable damage to the sport he loved. He also gave false hope to millions of cancer survivors, making it appear that they could come back better and stronger if they just put their minds to it. This may be true for some cancer patients, but it wasn't for Lance Armstrong, who had to play dirty to keep his edge.
Then there are the denials -- at the expense of his friends, his fans, his colleagues -- that he issued time and again, convincing reporters who should have known better, and a public who wanted so much to believe, that Armstrong got where he was through hard work and determination alone.
Finally, most unforgivably, Armstrong knowingly set himself up as a hero, as a role model. Like Tiger Woods, he happily embraced being labeled one of the world's greatest athletes. But Woods didn't lie about his golf game -- only about his extracurricular activities. What Armstrong did is more comparable to what John Edwards did during his presidential run, putting his entire party in jeopardy by creating a false image of himself. Armstrong put his Livestrong charity -- the best, most genuine thing he ever did -- on the line. He put the entire sport of cycling on the line. And he cost taxpayers millions of dollars while the government doping investigation dragged on, at the mercy of his lies.
What will Lance Armstrong confess to Oprah? Probably not anything more than he has to, according to those who have experienced his deceptions first-hand. "Don't believe a word he says, because not a word he says can be believed," writes reporter Buzz Bissinger, author of the unfortunate 2011 Newsweek cover story I Still Believe in Lance Armstrong. "When he looks at Winfrey with the doleful eyes of contrived contrition...and says I did it... know that he did ten times more. When he says he didn’t do it, which I imagine he will do when it comes to threatening other teammates, know that Armstrong is just continuing his lies."
The problem, it seems, is that Lance Armstrong wants to uphold his legacy without paying the price for what he's done. He wants forgiveness without contrition. And it's simply too little, too late.
At least we can take some small solace in finally understanding who Armstrong really is -- something that sports insiders have known for a long time.
"On a personal level, anyone who has ever dealt with Lance Armstrong has disliked him," Leitch tells iVillage. "There has always been an arrogance about him, to his fellow cyclers, to the media, to the rest of the sporting world, that led many to want to see him taken down. Now that's happening. It was probably inevitable."