“Lance has created doubt in the mind of his supporters,” Maloni said. “When you’re a public figure, you’re managing to the middle. You won’t convince those who are convinced you’re a cheat, and you’ll always have your supporters. Lance’s fans will see this latest development as somewhat heroic, that he’s above this petty back and forth with USADA.”
Armstrong’s sponsors and associates lined up to defend him Friday, many highlighting his charitable work and crusade against cancer.
While Armstrong already had been retired from cycling for the past 18 months, this week’s news could have the biggest impact on his Livestrong foundation. As Armstrong’s fame escalated, his foundation grew. Livestrong brought in nearly $7 million in contributions in 2002, a figure that rose to nearly $41 million in 2009, according to tax records. Fundraising efforts have taken a hit, though, and in 2010, the most recent year for which records are available, the foundation raised less than $30 million, a 23 percent drop from the previous fiscal year.
“I absolutely think the foundation’s future is still promising,” Maloni said. “The question is can Lance be an effective part of that foundation’s future?”
Livestrong was created 15 years ago following Armstrong’s battle against testicular cancer that threatened his life and since has raised approximately $500 million. In his statement Thursday, Armstrong said he will focus his efforts on his foundation, and the vice chairman of the foundation, Jeffery Garvey, said Friday the organization remains “incredibly proud of our founder’s achievements, both on and off the bike.”
Reaction was loud and varied Friday. Armstrong and the authenticity of his accomplishments have been widely debated for several years; the latest news seemed to validate arguments for both detractors and supporters.
“Knowing what we KNOW 2day, I hope the sporting world resets their brains re: what is/isn’t possible. & cheers louder 4 those doing it right,” tweeted Andy Jacques-Maynes, a professional cyclist from California.
Johan Bruyneel, the team director for all seven of Armstrong’s Tour victories who is also under investigation by USADA and faces a possible lifetime ban, expressed disappointment that the legal melee escalated to this point. “Lance has never withdrawn from a fair fight in his life so his decision today underlines what an unjust process this has been,” he said in a statement.
Armstrong has never conclusively failed a drug test, nor has he faced criminal charges. Most recently, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles concluded a nearly two-year investigation in February without filing criminal charges.
Four months later, USADA announced it had evidence Armstrong cheated as far back as 1999, and the cyclist immediately filed a lawsuit to block USADA from pursuing its case. Saying the court lacked jurisdiction, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparksthrew out Armstrong’s case on Monday.
In his opinion, Sparks said he had “misgivings about USADA’s conduct leading up to and during this case,” and said the agency was “acting according to less noble motives.” The judge called USADA’s decision to pursue Armstrong “mystifying.”
USADA is a quasi-government agency charged with overseeing anti-doping efforts in Olympic sports in the United States. Approximately $9 million of its $13 million budget is from federal dollars.
Tygart defended USADA’s pursuit of Armstrong, saying the agency has a responsibility to identify cheaters and to protect sport.
“Any time we have overwhelming proof of doping, our mandate is to initiate the case through the process and see it to conclusion as was done in this case,” he said.
There have been recent congressional efforts to examine USADA’s practices. Last month, Rep. James F. Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) asked the Office of National Drug Control Policy to investigate the agency. “I believe Congress has an interest in ensuring our athletes face clear rules and a fair and straightforward system of testing and that our taxpayer dollars are used efficiently and appropriately,” Sensenbrenner said in a statement. “I will continue to follow USADA’s activities with interest.”