Lance Armstrong: Champ or Chump?

This past week, legendary American cyclist Lance Armstrong announced he would no longer fight accusations that he had used and distributed performance enhancing drugs. The consequences? A life-time ban from the sport he made so popular, being summarily stripped of his seven Tour de France wins, and a drastic and tragic fall from grace.

Cheating is a way of life in cycling, and the sport has a long doping history. Its first reported case was way back in 1886, a pattern that has continued since with cocaine, EPO, and blood doping. Many of today’s top riders have failed doping tests and have had their achievements stripped. For his part, Armstrong is not the only American to be stripped of his cycling honors. Consider the case of Floyd Landis, who was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title.

Or then there is Tyler Hamilton, who voluntarily gave up his 2004 Olympic gold medal in cycling under a cloud of suspicion of doping. Both Landis and Hamilton have each admitted that they cheated–and accused Armstrong of doing the same.

Considering the resources it takes to fight such hefty legal allegations, and given the number of witnesses lined up to testify against him, it’s easy to understand Armstrong’s decision to plead no-contest. If he’s innocent, he can still sleep soundly at night knowing that his titles were legitimate. Choosing not to fight the allegations will also surely be easier on Armstrong’ checkbook, and his mental and physical energy as well.

But is this how a hero act? Millions admired him because he didn’t plead “no contest” to the testicular cancer that ravaged his body. In the words of St. Ignatius, he fought and did not heed the wounds, he toiled and did not seek rest. LiveSTRONG, right? Placed in this new crucible, he’s allowing his reputation, accolades, and amazing charitable work to melt under the heat of these accusations.

He could very well be innocent, he could very well be guilty. Either way, he will go down in the history books with an asterisk next to his name, like too many before him. Whether champ or chump, he may no longer be the hero we thought him to be. I for one take no pleasure in saying so.

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