At what point does Lance Armstrong go from a being an inspirational figure to a sympathetic one?
Six months ago, Armstrong was comfortably in the USA’s firmament of sports heroes. He had parlayed his Tour de France championships and triumph over cancer into an assortment of lucrative business deals and a reputation as one of the country’s leading cancer-fighters. Of the people whose names are synonymous with cancer organizations — Susan Komen, Jim Valvano — he’s the one who’s still with us, ready to speak about his experience.
Sure, he had critics. But they were mostly shouted down, scorned or sometimes silenced in court.
Then the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency said it was checking into Armstrong’s past. And Armstrong scoffed, confident that his business partners and the sports community as a whole would stick with him. After losing a round in court, he wiped his hands and figured he didn’t even need to fight the case against him. Maybe he couldn’t? No one knew for sure.
When USADA released its colossal evidence against Armstrong, he shrugged it off again. Great times coming up at Livestrong, he reminded everyone on Twitter.
Aside from the media reaction, nothing tangible happened at first. Then, everything fell. It was like everyone in East Berlin suddenly realizing that the guards were no longer at the Berlin Wall. The official bulwarks — in Armstrong’s case, Livestrong and his many commercial partners — fell away. And journalists, many of whom had suspicions for years but no proof, felt free at last to heap scorn upon Armstrong.
Today, Lance Armstrong is officially the seven-time Tour champion no longer, stripped by international cycling authorities who seem to believe every bit of evidence except the bits that implicate them as well. Given the depth of doping scandals within cycling over Armstrong’s decade of wins, many titles will simply sit vacant. There’s no point in “promoting” anyone to the Tour title when the other cyclists either had doping issues of their own or were never put under the same scrutiny to which USADA put Armstrong.
And Armstrong has lost the last of his endorsement deals. A few days ago, he had tens of millions in future earnings. Today, that’s all gone.
Other people and organizations are feeling the ripple effect. In the D.C. area, some people want to hear from Post columnist Sally Jenkins, Armstrong’s co-author and staunch defender a few short weeks ago. Former Armstrong teammate Levi Leipheimer will be telling his story in a documentary and panel discussion. And will we ever see the lovely Tour de France the same way?
But at the heart of it all is a giant now toppled. Just 12 days ago, he said he was “unaffected.” How different he must feel today.