It’s tough to see a hero fall. I didn’t consider Lance Armstrong to be a hero for riding. But what he did for cancer survivors was remarkable.
Until recently, cycling was filthy with doping. Take a look at the podium finishers for the Tour de France. Only two of the podium finishers in the Tour de France from 1996 through 2005 have not been directly tied to likely doping through admission, sanctions, public investigation or exceeding the UCI hematocrit threshold. The sole exceptions are Bobby Julich – third place in 1998 and Fernando Escartin – third place in 1999.
I could forgive Armstrong for doping. It seems clear that everyone was doping. It leaves open the question of whether Armstrong was one of the greatest cyclists or merely one of the greatest dopers. We have no way of knowing whether his regime of doping merely leveled the playing field or elevated him above the level of his also doping competitors. Were his competitors lesser cyclists or merely less capable at doping?
What caught my attention about the Armstrong interview was the window into the mind of a pathological liar. Armstrong had been telling the lie over and over and over. He lied to the public. He lied to the press. He lied to cancer survivors. He lied under oath.
Beyond that, he attacked those who accused him of doping. He ruined the careers of journalists who dared accuse him of doping. He ruined the careers of riders who accused him of doping.
I put Mr. Armstrong in the same group as Bernie Madoff. Two men who lived their lies for decades. They both seem to regret that they got caught, not that they were lying and stealing money. Granted Mr. Armstrong’s theft was a bit more indirect.
I don’t believe most of what Mr. Armstrong told Oprah in the interview. He’s been lying too long to think that he is now telling the whole truth. But there may be bits of truth mixed in his interview. He did clearly admit to doping.
As with most pathological liars, Mr. Armstrong expressed more remorse that he was caught, than for the harm he caused. He found justification for his bad acts.