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So Well and So Long

Lance Armstrong and the truth

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, August 24, 2005.

Americans tend to believe all sports’ myths. About Babe Ruth, about the 1980 Miracle on Ice, about even Seabiscuit. We ignore the likelihood Biscuit was probably coked out of his equine skull to win all those races for so many years even after a broken leg. We choose not to acknowledge our heroic hockey team did not play actual Soviet All Stars, but only one of their top pickup teams who had, let’s be fair, a bad day. It’s a more moving story this way; false, but moving.

Americans like “moving.” We’re a sentimental people, just like the Russians, ironically, and not like the French. We like “moving” more than “important” or even “true.” Our newest legend is Lance Armstrong, a Texan who survived testicular cancer that had spread to other major organs, and given a rendezvous with death, delayed and then defeated it.

Not only did he survive – which the reduced expectations of the New Age often consider a victory in itself – he became a world class athlete who dominated his sport more completely than any other.

The sport's biggest event is the Tour de France, and he won the last seven of them. Unprecedented as it is unbelievable. The Tour used to be dominated by the French and other Europeans. About the only way the world could avoid American cultural dominance was in certain sports, like bicycling. Until, alas, Armstrong.

To imagine the shock this was to the sports’ world and especially to the French, picture a short, outrageously gay Canadian from Quebec suddenly becoming the NBA’s high scorer for seven consecutive seasons, humiliating the huge men with unstoppably distant three pointers, and whose music taste runs to obscure Soviet Opera. Worse, suppose this Francopuff only wore discarded sneakers and Dad’n’Lad sportswear from a strip mall. And didn’t speak good English. Imagine him having a prosthetic leg because he survived an attack of flesh eating bacteria, which he defeated and the experience inspired in him high expectations, spirituality, and hatred of bling, which he celebrates by marrying a male Country Music star in a Presidential receiving line with Billy Graham on national television. Imagine this guy being introduced before a game in New York later that day and scoring his usual eighty points by the half way mark, and then watching the Queer Eye reruns mandated to be played on the Jumbotron because it’s in his contract and during which the teams have to play in socks and the crowd has to be quiet. Imagine how the fans would love him. Year after year. After year.

That’s not how Lance Armstrong ever acted, but Americans have so many outlets for their veneration exaggeration is needed to suggest how France felt losing one of their few to this seemingly robotic American from a country whose policies they hated. How they resented him for winning so easily. So often.

Like horses of the Biscuit era and beyond, bicyclists on the Tour have probably always been chemically enhanced. Face it, it’s a mutha of a grind, and I, for one, would find it difficult to believe any of the major contestants didn’t subject themselves to a bracing slosh of steroids or readjusted blood. As CU Athletic Directors have proven, plausible deniability has great value, and the carefully chosen words of athletes cast deep suspicion. Apparently, they sound better ahead of time than when forced to become a King of Weasel Words before a Congressional sub-committee. “I never was aware that I was taking banned substances when my trainer gave me a bottle to drink every day called The Magic Stuff for the last decade.”

Tyler Hamilton, a Colorado bicyclist, has seriously claimed that the blood of a different person found in his samples after two different events is, no doubt, the blood of his unabsorbed identical twin, although it isn’t claimed that the alien blood is the same both times. He’s very sincere sounding arguing against his two year ban, but I don’t believe him and I don’t think many do.

Lance Armstrong has said he never took performance enhancement items, but there is new evidence that might disgrace our national myth. If true. It seems blood samples still exist from the 1999 Tour’s participants, and fifteen of them just tested positive for an illegal enhancement and one of them was Armstrong’s. If so, and if blood samples from future races prove as damning……….well, what?

And if Armstrong did it, it’s a safe bet everyone did. Or rather, if everyone else did it, how could Armstrong not?

And I think he did it. I’m sorry, I don’t believe in miracles, which are written, not rendered. I don’t believe anyone can survive the cancer as described and win a sports event dependent on muscles toughened by the product of organs you’ve had cut in half. I know it is possible. I just do not believe it. I know – we all know – that blood and chemical doping has been rampant in bicycling. I don’t believe that just stopped, or that a chemically clean athlete could compete with the participants. So well. For so long.