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El Tiempo, Colombia

The Parable of Lance Armstrong

The fall of the man who was a legend of cycling demands a thorough debate about the role of money and, above all, the obsession for victory in the high-performance sport.

Translated By Alan Bailey

20 January 2013

Edited by Gillian Palmer

Colombia - El Tiempo - Original Article (Spanish)

Regardless of the fact that it was an expected revelation, the impact that cyclist Lance Armstrong's confession caused on Thursday night was enormous. In discussion with journalist Oprah Winfrey, he admitted, with little emotion, having used prohibited substances to improve his performance, a practice that he denied vehemently for years. One was struck by his always grim face. He took blame, yes, but did not express much remorse.

Despite surprising nobody, his answers nevertheless dismayed many. And with his answers, although he avoided giving details about the plot that was woven behind him, he managed to deal a fatal blow to the myth constructed around a man who was considered one of the greatest athletes of all time. The hero was a benchmark for many, above all the young, and also the benefactor who, after being nearly terminally ill, overcame to win the Tour de France seven times. He recognized that his feats — as well as the commercial and motivational product which he had become — were built on fraud. Now at stake are his assets and his freedom, both in question, since he will have to return a large part of the money that he obtained in his career and will need to explain why he stated, under oath, that he had not doped.

The event has brought about reflection on a sport that, certainly, has brought so much joy to Colombia.

The debate has two branches. On one side is the fraud. Here it must be said that this is an evil that is far from being exclusive to this sport on two wheels. Cases of suspicious irregularities abound in soccer, but also in tennis and in many other sports, committed by those who put aside ethics to achieve not just honor, but also money.

Many times, the natural impulse of the human species for standing out, which represents a risk to one's integrity, combined with, as in this case, the desire of great profit that high-performance sport promises to the best, causes athletes to circumvent the rules. The way that this society has promoted individual success as a supreme value that must be achieved at any cost is a factor that, without a doubt, comes into play here. Armstrong himself asserted that the mere satisfaction produced while demonstrating his superiority motivated him. Of course, while he raised his arms the dividends rained down for him and the brands that he represented.

The other problem is the recurrent use of prohibited substances in cycling. From its start, there are sufficient records of this type of non-heavenly help, despite it only starting to be controlled in 1966, when amphetamines were circulating heavily amongst the pack. To explain this, for example, it has been said that the difficulty of the races leaves the competitors no other alternative. It is true that knowing how to manage pain is the secret of the sport — "Assassins!", the Frenchman Octave Lapize yelled at organizers during a stage of the 1910 Tour that was more than 300 kilometers with five mountain awards — and that the suffering that it entails makes those who practice more inclined to find shortcuts to avoid the hardships. But none of this answers the question if, as already mentioned, the obsession for victory is not considered.

Reducing the demand can be an alternative so that cycling continues forward, but it will do no good if there continues to be someone wanting to gain an advantage by appealing to the dark side of science. Therefore, above all, we must examine what has led someone to want to seek victory at any cost, in cycling but also in other high-performance sports.



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