Oprah Winfrey’s recent interview with renowned cyclist Lance Armstrong brings to light the tragedy of a “win at all costs” approach as well as the “flawed” state of humankind. Armstrong himself repeatedly used the “flaw” word when delivering his long-awaited confessional and beginning the apologies and restitution that must follow. If ever there was a tragic hero in post-Shakespearean culture, Armstrong is it. A former winner of seven consecutive Tour de France titles and an Olympic medal before he was stripped of those, Armstrong received cycling’s “death penalty,” meaning that he will never again be allowed to compete in sanctioned events. As if those tragic results weren’t enough, a multi-million dollar fortune in the form of corporate endorsements has just slipped through his fingers. Justice prevails.
Winfrey’s repeated wincing as Armstrong laboriously pedaled uphill through her pointed questions must have symbolized what we all felt. Painful to watch–yes. And certainly difficult to understand. How could someone so brilliant in his field fail to recognize, until totally undone by the world around him, the inevitable outcome? And how could he fail to see the collateral damage to those who got in the way of his drive to the podium. Conventional wisdom says that power corrupts. Apparently, it is also blinding. One can only conclude that Lance Armstrong suffered from blind allegiance to self–and to self only. The ego-busting party has no doubt just begun. Lawsuits and public reprisals from the wounded await.
Armstrong admits to having many demons to exorcise. Thankfully, for his sake, he is being tutored by a professional to help him see, and come to terms with, his shortcomings. His plight reminds one of the age old axiom: “the bigger they are, the harder they fall.” Having started at such a lofty level, Armstrong has a long way to fall, and his descent is in its early stages. The downhill slope ahead is well beyond his field of view. As he coasts around the bends, there are plenty of opportunities to crash before he lands at the bottom, regroups, and begins the long uphill climb to a rehabilitated life.
His victims, of course, are numerous–and must certainly feel betrayed–from young fans who were looking for a worthy role model, to cancer patients who were inspired that he beat cancer. Companies paid handsomely to leverage his image, staking their claim on a seemingly invincible champion. And a land full of patriots felt proud to be represented so well in an international sport where America had seen so little success. Invincible no longer, pride has been turned to shame.
A select few victims have already paid, and will continue to pay, a particularly high price. Among those are his family, including his ex-wife who merits high praise for standing on her convictions while co-parenting with a strong-willed parent who had, as he put it, “lost his way.” His children will now live the rest of their lives tied to the disgrace of his years of–and again using his words–“cheating,” “lying” to cover it up, and “bullying” the innocent who dared cross his path.
Other questions remain. How could such a travesty of sport, particularly in an international competition like cycling, go on for so long? One wonders why others looked the other way. Were the stakes for all involved too high to expose the scandals? And was Armstrong’s assertion true that most everyone else was cheating? According to him, others have received relatively short bans from competition. Is he taking the fall for the entire sport? And where, oh where, was cycling’s regulatory body through all of this? For prohibited activity that was reputed to be so prevalent, only the naive could conclude that the sport’s insiders were oblivious to these indiscretions. Were officials being paid off? Lance Armstrong claims he wasn’t involved. Do you believe him?