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El Espectador, Colombia

A Victim of the System?

Translated By Karen Posada

19 January 2013

Edited by Rachel Smith

Colombia - El Espectador - Original Article (Spanish)

In a long-awaited interview, the American cyclist Lance Armstrong confessed last week to journalist Oprah Winfrey that to win the Tour de France seven consecutive times he had to use drugs. With his confession, in a relatively short amount of time Armstrong went from being the biggest idol in cycling worldwide to a common villain on the street. That’s how fame is when it’s achieved with schemes. Novak Djokovic, the current number one tennis player in the world, expressed in a few words what many are thinking at the moment: “It’s a disgrace for the sport.”

Djokovic’s words, despite being directed exclusively at Lance Armstrong as an athlete, should be placed in a wider context. We all remember the ex-cyclist’s great feats. He was a qualified athlete who began pedaling in 1992, immersed in a professional sport, which paradoxically is one of the unhealthiest things humanly possible, co-existing with the mafias on the inside, repeating every day the goal of being the best no matter what and finally trying substances that helped him perform better.

With that, but also with his determination, you can’t deny that Armstrong conquered the Tour de France and Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil, Eddie Merckx, Bernard Hinault — all legends of that sport were left in his shadow. Armstrong the machine became a world symbol, a reason to watch cycling, a model of self-improvement who defeated the testicular cancer he was diagnosed with some time ago. Glory and example were concentrated in his figure.

That’s why it came as a shock that he confessed to the world, after having denied it with stubbornness and anger, that his athletic accomplishments weren’t completely fair. Of course it’s serious that Armstrong put a cocktail of erythropoietin, testosterone and transfusions in his body to win against his opponents. Of course it’s serious that he denied it to the point of impotence and historic shamefulness. Of course it’s serious that he said to Oprah Winfrey that using drugs “was … part of the job.” In this he is to blame, and today, with reason, he qualifies his competitors as heroes.

But the other side of the coin, which you can’t sidestep, is that Armstrong is also a victim. Although the decision was entirely his, to not think about the conditions around him as almost certain triggers is absurd. The desire for glory, to be a hero, the labs that work to make athletes perform better, the media, the fans, the mafias of the sport, the big brand sponsors and the big business that moves around the highly competitive sport — all of that had to do with that blind path of victory at any price.

That’s why after this scandal passes you have to expect that the sport and its authorities will go into a deep reflection about its own essence. The most interesting thing and, at the same time, the least emphasized in the ex-cyclist’s interview is so simple it passed unnoticed: “I didn’t invent the culture … I’m not a monster.” Not really.

Armstrong is the perfect example of how sports have arrived at a level of competition and commercialization that has completely corrupted them. Ben Johnson, Diego Maradona and many more, all geniuses of their disciplines, have passed into history as “the bad ones.” And no, it’s not only them. Things won’t change, sending them to hell, while the next idol appears. Sports must signify once more passion and hard work, as well as a generator of positive values for a society. And humanity above all, with just as much room for success and failure. We can now leave virtual sports to consoles and electronic games.



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