Saturday, October 20, 2012

Lance Armstrong is without honor

Lance Armstrong is a man without honor.

I used to be a fan of his. I remember my husband saying something about the Texan being someone to watch in the 1996 Olympic games and then a month later hearing of the dreaded diagnosis that Lance had testicular cancer.

It seemed to be a death sentence.

Then somehow miraculously he not only survived, but he was able to return to his sport and excel. Except he didn't just excel, he became the best of the best.

His personal story was one of triumph over adversity. It was heartwarming and inspiring.

My whole family rooted for him. We watched as many days of the Tour de France as possible. This was before I started my novel based in France. I started understanding some of France's varied geography due to the telecasts of the Tour.

I also learned about the various personalities of the riders and developed an understanding of how the sport worked. The politics of the peleton. The concept of chivalry in the sport.

For years there had been accusations swirling about him. Accusations of cheating. I gave him the benefit of the doubt.

Now after a release of a thousand pages of evidence against Lance Armstrong with twenty-six witnesses including eleven former teammates, I no longer have any doubts about Armstrong's guilt.

One of the reasons why I clung so long to the hope that Lance was telling us the truth is because I read his bestselling book, It's Not About the Bike written with Sally Jenkins. It was inspiring, but it was also BASED ON A LIE.

The book details his battle with cancer and his struggle to return to the sport. He also specifically mentions synthetic erythropoeitin or EPO in his book. It was because he specifically mentioned EPO in two contexts that I gave him the benefit of the doubt for so long.

"I was given a red blood cell booster called Epogen (EPO). In any other situation, taking EPO would get me in trouble with the International Cycling Union and the International Olympic Committee, because it's considered performance-enhancing. But in my case, the EPO was hardly that. It was the only thing that kept me alive."

I decided to address the charges outright, and held a press conference in Saint-Gaudens. "I have been on my deathbed, and I am not stupid," I said. Everyone knows that use of EPO and steroids by healthy people can cause blood disorders and strokes. What's more, I told the press, it wasn't so shocking that I won Sestriere; I was an established former world champion.
 "I can emphatically say I am not on drugs," I said. "I thought a rider with my history and my health situation wouldn't be such a surprise. I'm not a new rider.  I know there's been looking, and prying, and digging, but you're not going to find anything. There's nothing to find...and once everyone has done their due diligence and realizes they have to be professional and can't print a lot of crap, they'll realize they're dealing with a clean guy."

Those were smooth calculated lies, designed to deflect any suspicion from his meteoric rise in ability. In the book he also detailed how due to the cancer treatments that he lost weight. A lot of weight. This he claimed actually helped him as a rider in the mountain stages and not have to pull up so much body weight on his bike. He was known to be scrupulous about his caloric intake to the point of weighing his food.

I believed his lies.

I believed it when he said that he was clean and that rumors and suspicions surrounding him were out of jealousy. I also believed that accusations by former team mates (like Floyd Landis) were personal vendettas.

I knew that Lance Armstrong's personality was arrogant. That came across pretty strong in the book, but I understand in order to compete on the level of a world class athlete it is almost mandatory to have arrogance in your DNA. I accepted Lance's arrogance as being a part of the overall package of a champion. He was an exciting athlete who outperformed his peers and had an amazing life story. He also appeared to be dedicating a good portion of his life and energy to helping people with cancer.

I wore his yellow bracelet. I, along with most people, have had friends and family be diagnosed and die of cancer. It seemed that by supporting the Livestrong Foundation I was helping my loved ones to "live strong."

Now I wonder how much the foundation was due to Lance's benevolence as a cancer survivor and how much of it was calculated to serve as a shield from scrutiny. It helped raise his profile as a celebrity.

Outside of hard core cycling fans, it is hard to think that many average people on the street would be able to identify the names of many professional cyclists. Lance Armstrong has the highest name recognition and is even recognizable to people by sight. How many other cyclists can claim that?

Lance's first wife Kristen also wrote a book for children. I read it to my son when he was little. He was inspired by that story as well. He looked up to Lance and believed the lies.

Now Nike and other sponsors have dropped their endorsement contracts with Lance Armstrong.

The aspect of this scandal that bothers me the most is how Lance treated his former team mates who dared tell the truth. He protected his reputation by engaging in character assassination. He declared them to be "vengeful malcontents" and "serial liars."

Instead, as it turns out, he was the mastermind of the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping ring in cycling history.

His book It's Not About the Bike should be shelved along with other memoirs with embellishments like James Frey's A Million Little Pieces and or even wildly inventive tales such as Misha Defonseca's Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years which detailed a story of a Holocaust survivor being raised by wolves.

The concept of honor is important to me. Writing a novel set in the Medieval period where knights either follow or violate the rules chivalry has honed my own sense of what being honorable means.

My hero, the knight Ruggiero, strives to live up to the image of the perfect knight exemplified by his noble ancestor Hector of Troy. At one point, Ruggiero is engaged in a fight against three other knights. Being outnumbered does not intimidate him, because he believes in his skill. It is when the shield he is using brings about magical intervention and fells all of his opponents, he feels shame.

He won without honor.

Rather than be grateful for the win and feel this magical weapon he possesses can make him invincible, he wants to rid himself of it. He ties rocks to the shield and throws it into a deep well hoping that it will be lost for all time.

He feels that winning without honor is beneath the dignity of a knight.

That is exactly how I see how Lance Armstrong won his titles: without honor.

He is worthy of all the public shaming that he is enduring right now. He lied to people. He engaged in personal attacks against people in order to cover his lies. He also used cancer patients as a moral smokescreen to deflect against his own personal shortcomings.

Now there are accusations that he may have engaged in bribing other riders to allow him to win races.

It seems that he has not yet hit bottom with his fall from public grace.

Perhaps the dictionary definition of hubris should list Lance Armstrong as an example.

Hubris: an excess of ambition, pride, etc, ultimately causing the transgressor's ruin

May professional cycling find some worthy men to restore its honor.