I woke up this morning to NPR and yet another story about Lance Armstrong and the ever-unfolding doping scandal. The show’s guest was speaking about a book published a few years back by an Irish author whose claims of Lance’s doping fell on many a deaf ear which are now, in light of new evidence, basking in the glow of affirmation. Despite all the mounting and apparently irrefutable evidence there is still, in me at least, a semblance of incredulity.
Now, I’ve never been an ardent Lance Armstrong fan nor have I grasp the mystique of road cycling the almost zen attachment many ascribe to the sport. Personally, I found more enjoyment in mountain biking, struggling up a thigh burning, rock strewn trail knowing a flight down an adrenaline-busting, precipice-skimming singletrack awaited just over the crest of the next rise. Despite that I respected the guy, how he pulled through adversity and rose to become an inspirational figure for many. I admired how he used his celebrity to raise money for cancer research and support for cancer survivors. It’s also worth acknowledging his contribution to the popularity of cycling in the US. How visible would the sport be on this side of the Atlantic if it weren’t for Armstrong? How many would have taken up, or even considered taking up cycling if it wasn’t for his popularity? Sometimes a sport does need a role model, a central figure that inspires and up until last month, Lance Armstrong was exactly that for the cycling world fandom.
This is why the mass of evidence breaking over the world renowned cyclist is so difficult for many to believe. Perhaps the inundation of the wealth of evidence hitting everyone all at once is what has ingrained some hopeful skepticism in a few remaining souls. I mean, honestly, when the breadth of this doping system Armstrong is accused of facilitating unfolded it seemed more akin to a crazy conspiracy theory. It was reminiscent in some ways to the Obama birthers who assert a vast conspiracy stretching from the President’s Kenyan relatives to his parents to the Hawaiian hospital and doctors to even the newspaper editors who were all in cahoots to fulfill a master plan to ensure that infant child would be president one day.
From leading the entire doping scheme to fraternity-style drug initiations of new team members to enlisting dealers and physicians in various countries to overseeing a system of “clean” bodily fluids for testing to even arranging for drug deliveries via support motorcycles in the middle of races it was almost too much to believe. The similarities to a ‘B’ movie plot were more plentiful than those to the real world. Along with a witchhunt-esque investigation one has to wonder if all this is due to someone’s over-exuberant imagination.
I also find myself asking, why would a cancer survivor take such risks? If someone is fortunate enough to survive cancer what would motivate that person to once again put themselves at risk for other life threatening conditions or events? I remember one of my favorite sports figures from my younger days, Lyle Alzado a Superbowl champ and defensive lineman for the LA Raiders. I remember my surprise when he died from a brain tumor at the age of 43 (2 years older than I am now) due to long-term steroid use. While Armstrong and his teammates were not using cancer-causing anabolic steroids, the use of EPO – the blood oxygen boosting hormone – can result in thrombosis or stroke. Ethical considerations aside, wouldn’t the wealth of health risks associated with performance enhancing drugs at the very least give a cancer survivor pause?
For all these reasons and circumstantial considerations there is still a lingering snippet of stubborn skepticism in my mind. Well, perhaps not really skepticism but rather a hopeful hesitation to fully accept the preponderance of evidence in lieu of something, or someone, that will pop up and call bunk to it all.