Viewpoint: Why Lance Armstrong Couldn’t Stop Himself (and Still Can’t)

A writer's experience with a tarnished icon

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George Burns/Oprah Winfrey Network via Getty Images

Lance Armstrong, while being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey.

You could always ask Lance Armstrong anything. About competing in the Tour de France, about living with cancer and his work at Livestrong, about his parenting skills, or about his love life, which at one point was fairly busy. And what you’d get back was quotable and candid. That included, in every interview I’ve done or read about him, the inevitable question about doping.

The Associated Press reported that Lance Armstrong has admitted to Oprah Winfrey, in an interview to be aired Thursday and Friday, that he doped while winning Tour de France titles; on Tuesday morning, Winfrey confirmed that Armstrong “came clean.” All of this follows the report released in October by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that offered overwhelming evidence that he cheated. Armstrong denied doping to me, although he never seemed to resent being asked about it. He was more angry at being the target of government and anti-doping agency investigation. Sources lie all the time, of course. They call it spin. But Lance’s lie was remarkable for all the effort he had to put into it. He was as committed to the lie as he was to everything else he did. A lot of athletes, say, Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods, have a practiced sincerity in responding to questions and absolutely refused to discuss certain subjects. With Jordan, anything having to do with, say, gambling or his private life was not going to be answered. Tiger wouldn’t go near politics broadly, or racial politics in particular, if you put a driver to his head.

(MORE: Straight Dope: Is Lance Armstrong Memorabilia Worthless Now?)

Armstrong, on the other hand, is a political animal. He helped convince the Texas legislature to invest a $1 billion in cancer research. He has prodded governments around the world to do likewise. A man with that much conviction carries with him a certain amount of implied credibility.

And when the credibility came into question, Armstrong turned on his competitive instincts and beat back the doubters like he would someone challenging him on a Tour stage. He was famous for being the boss man of the Tour, for keeping a certain order to things, and any cyclist who got out of line would be run down by an Armstrong teammate or, for certain violators, by Lance himself. He did the same thing with former riders who challenged his story, especially Floyd Landis. He worked relentlessly for years to disgrace his accusers and keep other former teammates in line. When the U.S. attorney decided not to press charges last year, he could see the finish line. But he couldn’t see that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency boss Travis Tygart was putting in just as much work cracking 11 former teammates. And Tygart had a hammer: he would ban them for their competitive lives if they didn’t cooperate.

It is likely that Armstrong will be just as competitive in The Redemption as he has at everything else he’s done: triathlete, cancer patient, and elite cyclist. He needs to be an athlete again—the guy still trains relentlessly—and I’m sure he’d like to reconnect with the cancer community, where his goodwill account is still positive. Expect a full bore admission for Oprah, although one coached as to limit the legal damage. Expect USADA’s Tygart to be unyielding until he gets what he wants.

And then it will move on to court. Armstrong is being sued by Landis in a federal whistleblower case over allegedly defrauding the government, which sponsored Armstrong’s U.S. Postal team from 1996 to 2004. He may settle with the feds. Which is kind of ironic, since you could argue that Armstrong absolutely fulfilled the contract. Even as he was doping, Armstrong put all of his energy into making the Posties a winning outfit. It gave the U.S.P.S.— a functionally bankrupt, quasi-government outfit — more positive impressions than it could ever buy with conventional advertising, as it is demonstrating today. Even as a cheat, Lance Armstrong could never do anything else but compete.

MORE: What Drugs Are Lance Armstrong Accused Of Taking?

29 comments
gene_guarin
gene_guarin

If everyone else was doping, is still considered as an unfair advantage for Lance to dope? There have been several accounts where Lance supposedly started doping because he was sick and tired of losing to people who were on the dope. If that is true, wasn't he just leveling the playing field? 

NebuchadnezzarII
NebuchadnezzarII

Eh, who cares? He's an athlete and an entertainer. Funny how the UCI, TDF, WADA, USADA, whatever other entity you care to abbreviate are all pontificating about Lance Armstrong's doping, when A; they couldn't catch him in the act, and B; they all made tons of money off the popularity he brought to the sport.

Without Lance Armstrong, most Americans still wouldn't be able to point out France on a map, let alone know what the TDF was. Now that he's gone, all there's left are "confessed" dopers and prima donnas. Bradley Wiggins might have raced "clean", but he's about as boring as a tax return.

Before Lance hit the TDF and upset all the boys in tights, most Americans (or just myself) couldn't be bothered watching a night of the TDF, and now that he's gone, Americans are slowly (I've already lost it) losing interest in pro cycling, because all they do is stand, or ride around whining over who-did-what-to-whom-or-themselves over a decade ago.

Thanks to Lance, I got interested in cycling for fitness and tourism, and regardless of his doping history, he's done more to inspire me than others in his profession. I figure that's enough.

daisyandus
daisyandus

The majority of athletes 'dope' to the point where testing can't catch them. Put in a different test and the drugs will adapt right along with them. Lance didn't do anything that others weren't doing. He believed the 'lie'. If the test couldn't detect it, then it wasn't doping.

KendraJames14
KendraJames14

He wanted to win and the money and recognition was too good. It Sure didn't take long for tons of Lance Armstrong fans to Deface there live-strong Apparel..  http://bit.ly/13EbvyT 

kmyers000
kmyers000

I worked in Plano, Texas for a firm owned by Planoites.  Biggest bunch of egoists on the planet Earth and I can tell you he fits the mold superbly well...

mrmsjb12
mrmsjb12

Lance is a true american A CHEAT AND A LIAR a real true blue american citizen

George286
George286

People like Armstrong are intriguing, they do good in the world but they are also con-men and frauds, in his case on a massive scale.  His actions corrupted the sport and cheated legitimate competitors out of their accolades and remuneration for endorsements to their great injury.  It is all the more galling that he posed as an underdog fighting cancer for admiration and for all we know the good acts were just a hedge against being caught.  All very sociopathic.  You can forgive and be sympathetic all you want but you don't give people like him redemption, recall the parable of the girl who warmed up the frozen snake.  Much like Charles Colson he can now only be judged over the years, taken with a grain of sale, and only after you confirm the truth. He needs to be kept on a permanent S list.

FredFlintsone
FredFlintsone

A long time ago with the help of among others a close colleague of the head of the international Olympic committee  and a high profile banker we decided to win as many Tours as we could by any means necessary since everybody else was  doping anyway. With resources and backing we had we were just better at it  than the rest If someone tried to question our methods we threatened them or took legal action against them. I still have $100M stashed I just want to go about my life as any other person. Livestrong Armstrong

wrathbrow
wrathbrow

Wake up and smell the real dope people. At these levels of competition people are doing almost everything possible to win. Not all, and not all the same for all sports, but most. That includes taking things that help their performance but keeping it at tested passing levels. It also means they are driven to win before friendship. That does not make them evil, and it does not make them saints, it makes them highly driven people with a goal that they place at their top priority. And that is what most of us want in our athletes, not nicest person who comes in 5th place, but someone with a stronger personality that wins. Armstrong did what he needed to do to win and be the super human person most people cheered for, and now we look behind the cape and is it really surprising at what we see?

RealityCheckKid
RealityCheckKid

See the world as it is - not as you might wish it to be- if he admits to using these all powerful endurance enhancing drugs---what will you conclude about the next ten competitors and the Tour De France and the sport on the whole  - would you accept the possibility that during that time most of the competitive riders on the top ten teams were also using the same drugs to compete at that ultra high level. Rats and sour grapes - I have no use for either - One is vermin and the other makes poor "whine". If LeMond wasn't dumb he would have applauded the one man that brought interest to the sport and 1000's of bike buyers--LeMond goes broke in a decade when Armstrong sends high end bike sales through the roof--well played sir  well played- and as for the Masseuse or whatever she was - cash your paycheck and see nothing of your clients business - I am certain no one in their right mind would take off their clothes for her services - who knows what else she might think is news worthy. 

HannahShaya
HannahShaya

Lance Armstong's doping, lying and cheating is not the worst part.  It is Lance Armstrong's bullying, intimidation, vilifying and terrorizing of those that dared to speak the truth about his doping.  Consider Emma O'Reilly, Greg LeMond, Christophe Bassons, Betsy Andreu and hundreds of other people who had their personal and professional lives ruined by cheater Lance Armstrong.

Lance Armstrong destroyed Greg LeMond's bicycle business and attacked LeMond's reputation.

Lance Armstrong publicly attacked Betsy Andreu and had messages left on her phone telling her she would be physically harmed.

Lance Armstong bullied Christophe Bassons to the point that the young cyclist quit racing.

Lance Armstrong terrorized Emma O'Reilly. When she didn't succumb, he sued her for libel when she told the truth about his doping.  He wouldn't stop.  He publicly called her a prostitute and an alcoholic.   He kept attacking her until he was sure he hurt her personally and damaged her career.

British cyclist Cole said yesterday: "When Lance cries on Oprah later this week and she passes him the tissue, spare a thought for all those genuine people who walked away with no rewards - just shattered dreams."  These are the people that Lance irreparably harmed.   


At his very heart -- Lance Armstrong is a vindictive liar and cheat.


RealityCheckKid
RealityCheckKid

"Never Tested Positive" he parsed his words well - To my knowledge he never claimed not to have used - only never to have tested positive. I salute a man brave enough to do what it takes to get the job done- Harm to himself-- I doubt it - and it will be a moot point in 20 years or less as underground gene therapy and genetic modification become more readily available. 

RealityCheckKid
RealityCheckKid

My solace in this whole affair is that you sned your kid off to school pumped full of Adderal and you pop your Abilify on the way to work while drinking your Red Bull or Coffee and tell the whole world what bad people they are for using drugs over dinner with some wine...The labs producing will always be one step ahead of those testing - I applaud the bodybuilding community - At least they are not hypocritical - We use powerful drugs and look what you could do if you did too. So go see your Dr. for your Low T and keep on whining about those bad drug users--always the other guy - because your drugs are ok.

HannahShaya
HannahShaya

Equally tainted and suspect as Lance is the Livestrong charity. 

Monday's article in the NY Times exposed the conflicts of interests ---- the extremely high salaries of staff at the charity ---- the improriety of the Livestrong hiring Washington lobbyists from
 Patton Boggs, the firm representing Mr. Armstrong in the doping case ---- and much more.  Dirty to the core!



RealityCheckKid
RealityCheckKid

Lets recap - he won 7 races that were 2200 miles long and beat his next 10 competitors by less than 15 minutes --- either he and they were all clean ---or the drugs don't provide a big advantage---or maybe everybody on the whole tour was dirty because there was minimal time difference between 1st and tenth for 7 years

JosephChristo
JosephChristo

Que ceux qui accusent aujourd'hui  LANCE ARMSTRONG,ce champion hors norme, veuillent bien nommer 1 seul champion tous sports confondus qui ne se dope pas.TOUT LE MONDE SE DOPE? Ce fut toujours la norme depuis mes ancêtres ,j'ai bien nommé les Grecs,en plus ils pratiquaient la chirurgie pour extraire la rate de leurs coureurs olympiques ;d'où le dicton :"Courir comme 1 dératé".Que ces justiciers arrêtent leur hypocrisie.Ces gens-là nous gonflent.Etant donné que tous se dopent,le pus fort gagne.LANCE ,malgré l'adversité de sa maladie,a démontré sa supériorité.Que ces justiciers se taisent et que Mr LANDIS cesse

sa vindicte paranoïaque .Pour terminer, un contrepoint de cristal à 1 champion pas comme les autres.Et je dis à Lance Armstong qu'1 diamant ne craint point la fêlure, LA CARAVANE PASSE ET LES CHIENS ABOIENT.Merci LANCE.......Joseph Christo de Magdala  

ReignForrest
ReignForrest

This is all really, really ridiculous.The guy has lied -- a lot, for decades.He finally got caught.If he confesses, he's likely to be allowed to compete again in a few years.(Not something I'd allow in MY ideal world, but those are the rules.)A controlling man, he has decided to try and manipulate the world one more time so he can squeeze more out of it, now that he's antsy to compete again.So why o why are we paying attention to him?The answer, too, is actually evident: because Oprah, Diane Sawyer, and the rest of the news people want to make money!But why should we pay attention?This is not news.Or should not be.

boldandworthy
boldandworthy

"But Lance’s lie was remarkable for all the effort he had to put into it. He was as committed to the lie as he was to everything else he did. A man with that much conviction carries with him a certain amount of implied credibility."

-------------------------------------------------------

You may call it conviction, psychologists call it psychopathic behavior. 

George286
George286

And lest we overlook, to quote from below.  "Lance Armstong's doping, lying and cheating is not the worst part.  It is Lance Armstrong's bullying, intimidation, vilifying and terrorizing of those that dared to speak the truth about his doping.  Consider Emma O'Reilly, Greg LeMond, Christophe Bassons, Betsy Andreu and hundreds of other people who had their personal and professional lives ruined by cheater Lance Armstrong."  And my favorite
"But Lance’s lie was remarkable for all the effort he had to put into it. He was as committed to the lie as he was to everything else he did. A man with that much conviction carries with him a certain amount of implied credibility."  IT CARRIES WITH IT THE THE TITLE OF SOCIOPATH.  

Get lost Lance.

XanderLegere
XanderLegere

@FredFlintsone Much like Barry Bonds and others in baseball, Lance was the better than all the rest at cheating. Nearly all cheaters are eventually caught though. 

TaraSimon
TaraSimon

@RealityCheckKid So you're saying that it's fair to place Adderal and coffee on the same level as PED's? If so, I can give you a quick lesson in logical causation...

HannahShaya
HannahShaya

@RealityCheckKid

It wasn't the doping, lying and cheating that is the worst part of Lance Armstrong. It is the bullying, intimidation, vilifying and terrorizing of those that dared to speak the truth about his doping.  Consider Emma O'Reiley, Greg LeMond, Christophe Bassons, Betsy Andreu and hundreds of other people who had their personal and professional lives ruined by cheater Lance Armstrong.

British cyclist Cole said yesterday: "When Lance cries on Oprah later this week and she passes him the tissue, spare a thought for all those genuine people who walked away with no rewards - just shattered dreams."

FredFlintsone
FredFlintsone

@XanderLegere @FredFlintsone Which cheats got caught. The brands who made millions off  St Lance's products. None of the labels who did the same with Bonds and Clemens are complaining either none that I know of have ever filed any legal action against any of them. With the exception of the post office which is broke I don't think any of Lances sponsors are complaining. Fleecing the flock, find another hero,brand them, make more millions.  public wants heroes.

XanderLegere
XanderLegere

@FredFlintsone @XanderLegere Some cheaters are above the law. Some cheaters are too big too fail. Some cheaters are the government. Lance got caught, which makes sense since there is no justice in life. Only words....

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