Thursday, July 9, 2009

Lance Armstrong: Hero or Charlatan?

Lance Armstrong, who won the Tour de France a record seven times in a row (1999-2005), has returned to the grueling endurance race at age 37 and is a serious contender to post his eighth Tour victory. Armstrong survived a bout with cancer in 1996 and he announced his current comeback by declaring on his website, "After talking with my children, my family and my closest friends, I have decided to return to professional cycling in order to raise awareness of the global cancer burden." While Armstrong is certainly at least partially motivated by a champion's desire to once again be the best in the world at what he does--much like George Foreman and Michael Jordan were when they came back--there is no denying that he could do a tremendous amount of good for millions of people if his efforts lead to more funding for cancer treatment research

The Tour has been tainted for decades because of the large number of competitors who use performance-enhancing drugs; many of the sport's champions have either tested positive for drugs and/or confessed to using them. Armstrong's name has been at the forefront of PED speculation for many years but he steadfastly denies all such allegations and has never been caught redhanded. However, when you watch him outrace competitors who are much younger--many of whom probably are cheating--you inevitably ask yourself, "Is Lance Armstrong such a great and highly dedicated athlete that he can be clean and yet still beat younger athletes who are dirty--or is Lance Armstrong one of the greatest frauds in sports history, loudly proclaiming his innocence merely because he has found a way to beat the system?"

It is so sad that we have to wonder about this and if Armstrong is truly clean then I feel bad for even speculating about his character--but Marion Jones declared in bold print in her autobiography that she never used PEDs only to later tearfully admit to being a lying, cheating criminal. I would love to believe that an honest, forthright American hero is beating a bunch of liars and cheaters at what they consider to be "their" sport--but to believe that is to believe that Armstrong is superhuman, that he can outperform human beings are artificially enhanced. Forgive me if I have my doubts.


Anonymous said...

i dont understand the tour de france it's something called a stage armstrong has lost most of the stages but he second overall whgat is the concept david

David Friedman said...


It is a very, very long race divided into many stages. Some of the stages involve sprints or climbing mountains, so there are people who enter the event who have no realistic chance of winning the whole thing but are specialists at sprinting or climbing mountains; those guys can win a stage or two--which is very prestigious--but they cannot keep up that pace for the whole race. The person who wins the race is not trying to win every stage but simply stays near the front overall until he makes his final move. Armstrong has not won a stage this year but he is second overall so far, but he is nearly two minutes behind his teammate, so it does not look like Armstrong will win the race this year.