What is Lance Armstrong’s legacy now?

August 27, 2012

Last week Lance Armstrong said he will stop fighting allegations that he used banned substances during his career atop the cycling world. The surrender did not include an admission of guilt, but rather a statement that “enough is enough, ” as Armstrong put it. But in the wake of the announcement, and the USADA’s move to ban Armstrong for life and recommend that he be stripped of his record seven Tour de France titles, what are we to make of the man who so many associated with perseverance and a competitive drive on the road and in life?

The Post’s Sally Jenkins bashed the USADA’s investigation process, claiming that the effort to paint Armstrong as a criminal mastermind “reeks.”

federal judge wrote last week, “USADA’s conduct raises serious questions about whether its real interest in charging Armstrong is to combat doping, or if it is acting according to less noble motives.” You don’t say. Then when is a judge, or better yet Congress, going to do something about it?

Quite independently of Lance, with whom I wrote two books, for a long, long time I’ve had serious doubts about the motives, efficiency and wisdom of these “doping” investigations. In the Balco affair, all the wrong people were prosecuted. It’s the only so-called drug investigation in which the manufacturers and the distributors were given plea deals in order to throw the book at the users. What that told us was that it was big-game hunting, not justice. It was careerist investigators trying to put athletes’ antlers on their walls. Meanwhile, the Fourth Amendment became a muddy, stomped-on, kicked-aside doormat.

So forget Lance. I have so many problems with USADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency and the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) — which is supposed to be where athletes can appeal, only they never, ever win — that it’s hard to know where to begin. American athletes have lost 58 of 60 cases before the CAS. Would you want to go before that court?

Anyone who thinks an athlete has a fair shot in front of CAS should review the Alberto Contador case. Contador was found to have a minuscule, insignificant amount of clenbuterol in his urine during the 2010 Tour de France. After hearing 4,000 pages of testimony and debate, CAS acknowledged that the substance was too small to have been performance-enhancing and that its ingestion was almost certainly unintentional.

Therefore he was guilty. He received a two-year ban.

CAS’s rationale? “There is no reason to exonerate the athlete so the ban is two years,” one member of the panel said.

Would you want to go before that court?

Fellow Post columnist Mike Wise questioned the public’s obsession with hero worship, and said Armstrong’s decision to raise the white flag finally validates Besty Andreu’s claims from nearly 16 years ago that Armstrong admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs.

“He said, ‘Steroids, testosterone, cortisone, human growth hormone, EPO,’ ” Betsy recalled. “At the time I said, ‘I think we should leave.’ ” Once outside the room, she spun around and got in Frankie’s face: “If you’re doing that [expletive], I’m not marrying you,” she said. “That’s what gave him his cancer.”

To the millions in the Livestrong-for-Lance caravan, a never-ending peloton of enablers wearing yellow rubber bracelets, Betsy and Frankie have been at the forefront of the crazies.

Since they were deposed by lawyers in a long-ago lawsuit and related that story, they joined dozens of other former Armstrong teammates and accusers over the years as hateful vermin. Their only mission in life, to the Lance crusaders, is to be bring down a Texas-sized American hero, who himself has said Betsy just misinterpreted the question doctors were asking that day. Frankie backed up Betsy — Armstrong said when he was deposed — “to protect his old lady.”

I never believed Lance, who purportedly never failed a drug test. (Neither did Barry Bonds.) I’ve always believed Betsy.

I believed former teammate Tyler Hamilton, who had no reason to lie to federal investigators or “60 Minutes” last year when he said Armstrong put syringes and pills in his body to help him win. And I believed Hamilton when he said that he actually got the blood-boosting drug EPO in the mail from Armstrong, and that Hamilton would have done the same for his teammate if he had asked.

I believe USADA, a 12-year-old organization that Armstrong’s agent actually helped advise during its infancy when Bill Stapleton wanted to catch the cheaters. USADA has test results of Armstrong’s fully consistent with blood doping — and 10 witnesses to back up those claims. Armstrong’s masking agents, USADA believes, were undetectable for years. I believe USADA for the exact opposite reason Travis Tygart, the head of USADA, and his do-gooder lab rats are being vilified by the Livestrong faction:

Taking down Armstrong, who is still more popular than polarizing because his celebrity has enhanced cancer awareness and his foundation used to distribute funds to patients, was a lousy public-relations move — the adult-worship equivalent of divulging Kris Kringle’s real identity.

This is the part the Bracelet People don’t get: Coming out against Armstrong is actually badfor your career.

While others ponder Armstrong’s legacy and just how tarnished it has become, the man himself was back on his bike over the weekend, looking to move on with his life. As Cindy Boren wrote:

With very little fanfare, he quietly finished second in a mountain bike race Saturday in Aspen, Colo., and passed up an off-road marathon Sunday.

“I'm focused on the future,” he said Saturday (via the Los Angeles Times). “I've got five great kids, a great lady in my life, a wonderful foundation that's completely unaffected by any noise out there, and we're going to continue to do our job. The people — like the people who are standing around here or on the course — they voiced their opinion in the last 48 hours and are going to support us.”

Armstrong, 40, was wearing a black-and-gold outfit with the Livestrong logo during his 36-mile bike race.

“It's not so much about racing any more for me,” Armstrong said. “For me, it's more about staying fit and coming out here and enjoying one of the most beautiful parts of the world, on a beautiful day, on a very hard course. Some may say you're a little sick to spend your free time doing stuff like this. I had a good time.”

Fans don’t seem to have deserted Armstrong, who became a global figure for beating cancer as well as dominating the Tour de France. The day after Armstrong’s announcement that he was giving up his fight against the United States Anti-Doping Agency, there were 400 donations totaling about $75,000 to Livestrong, his cancer foundation. A Washington Post user poll revealed that 57 percent of voters do not believe Armstrong was a doper.

More from Washington Post Sports:

U.S. Anti-Doping Agency strips Lance Armstrong of titles and bans him for life

Armstrong says he will fight no longer

Text: Armstrong’s statement

Jenkins: Armstrong case reeks of hypocrisy

Wise: Longtime witness against Armstrong finally vindicated

Hamilton: What are we to believe?

Poll: Is Lance Armstrong guilty of doping?

Armstrong moves on with a bike race

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