Armstrong goes from hero to zero

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Lance Armstrong is the Great American Sports Cheat. Our greatest ever.

It’s not just that his Tour de France titles have been stripped. By now, we’ve dealt with plenty of amazing feats taken away because of doping.

Or not taken away. Guilty or innocent, Barry Bonds never asked us to believe that he was all about the potential of human spirit. Roger Clemens and Marion Jones didn’t represent hope.

Armstrong tied his cycling titles and his cancer victory and his charity into one heroic narrative about himself. We all bought in. Who wouldn’t? But as the years went on, and the doping allegations built up, he used all his good will to mobilize forces against anyone who dared to point a finger at him.

 

 

It was such a shockingly mean-spirited turn. And now his narrative comes off as such a big lie, no matter how many people he helped.

He played us to the end. He brought us along through so much, asked us to believe so much. And then, rather than going into arbitration to fight his most serious doping allegations, Armstrong …

Gave up.

A federal court wouldn’t throw out the case earlier this week.

And when Armstrong decided Thursday to stop fighting, the US Anti-Doping Agency said it would — and did on Friday — take away his Tour de France victories, ban him from cycling for life and label him a cheat.

There are still questions regarding statute of limitations, and whether all of Armstrong’s wins are subject to being stripped, or just two of them.

“There comes a point in every man’s life when he has to say, ‘Enough is enough,’ ’’ Armstrong said on his website, calling the USADA’s case against him an “unconstitutional witch hunt,’’ and saying the doping allegations were taking too much time away from his charitable work.

From “never give up” to “enough is enough”. This doping fight was too rough for him? No, he just played us all again.

How sad that he hides behind his foundation, his charity, his army of followers, including cancer survivors. Armstrong leaves by saying that he’s not guilty. He just isn’t going to keep fighting.

Roughly, he’s saying: I am so tired. I have no more strength. Let them do what they want to me.

It is a genius play, really, pitching to his followers that he’s the victim. His dwindling numbers of believers will see him as an even bigger hero. But it’s a losing end-game now that he didn’t push his case to arbitration.

 

CHEAT SHEET

These athletes flouted the rules. Who’s in this hall of shame?

 

Years ago, Rosie Ruiz jumped into the Boston Marathon somewhere in the middle and tried to win. Danny Almonte pretended to be younger than he was so he could play Little League. But they didn’t ask anything of us.

The 1919 Chicago White Sox threw the World Series to collect money from gamblers. That just about killed baseball in this country.

But Shoeless Joe Jackson is portrayed now as some sort of naïve dupe of the gamblers. You think Armstrong will be seen favorably in the future?

Enough is enough. I am never going to forget Armstrong saying that, never forget him playing the role of martyr. He took his followers over the hills and roads of France, and through a courageous cancer battle.

And then he just left them there.

Armstrong used to point a finger at his accusers, saying they were jealous or unable to believe in miracles. (He was the miracle.) His followers believed. Then, his friends and teammates started to turn.

They had spent their careers doing everything they could to protect him during the Tour de France and to help him win.

They were trying to write books and get light sentences for their own doping issues, Armstrong insisted. His followers believed. Others were only more and more convinced he was lying.

Armstrong built the divide, played off it, protected himself with it.

Tyler Hamilton, Armstrong’s former teammate told “60 Minutes’’ that Armstrong had used performance enhancing drugs and that U.S. Postal Service team and cycling federation officials were covering up.

“He used it to prepare for the Tour,’’ Hamilton said. “I saw it in his refrigerator. I saw him inject it more than one time … He took EPO, testosterone and I did see a blood transfusion.’’

 

tour de france gallery

FRENCH ROLL

See the best shots from this year’s Tour de France.

 

Armstrong once said he looked forward to the USADA clearing him. Then, the USADA went after him, and Armstrong called it spite.

He has insisted over and over that he passed hundreds of doping tests.

Last week, BALCO founder Victor Conte, talking about the doping bust of baseball player Melky Cabrera, told me you’d have to be an idiot to fail a doping test.

Still, if you were hanging on to hope for Armstrong, you could. Until he stopped fighting.

That did not pass the smell test. It was desperation, quitting before losing.

American cyclist Greg LeMond, who won the Tour three times, once said about Armstrong, “If the story is true, it is the greatest comeback in the history of sport. If it is not, it is the greatest fraud.’’

People will be looking for the big picture, talking about Joe Paterno and how we fall too much in love with sports figures. That’s true, but Armstrong wasn’t just about sports. He helped people to have hope, and while that doesn’t go away, the bigger picture here isn’t about us.

It’s about Armstrong. One man. One tremendous fall. Enough is enough.

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