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Updated: August 29, 2012 19:07 IST

The good, the bad and the ugly

Kalyan Ashok
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Polarising sportsman: Cyclist Lance Armstrong after winning the Tour de France for the seventh time. File Photo: Robert Laberge/Getty Images
Getty Images
Polarising sportsman: Cyclist Lance Armstrong after winning the Tour de France for the seventh time. File Photo: Robert Laberge/Getty Images

There’s a difference between the Lance Armstrong who is an inspiration for cancer patients, and the Armstrong who bears the taint of doping

The fall from grace of American cyclist Lance Armstrong, a towering inspiration to millions of cancer patients and a legion of young sportspersons across the globe, must have come as a rude shock to all.

Armstrong has been charged with doping by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), which stripped him of his record seven Tour de France wins and handed him a lifetime ban.

However, one has to make a clear distinction between Armstrong the Man and Armstrong the Sportsman.

An inspiration

Armstrong the man has indeed won admiration and respect for the way he fought back after being diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996. He penned an inspiring account of his fight back and did commendable charity work under the Lance Armstrong Foundation and spread the awareness of the disease.

Indian cricket star Yuvraj Singh too was one of those who drew strength from Armstrong’s book It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life when he was undergoing treatment for cancer recently.

Nobody grudges Armstrong for this work.

Controversial sportsman

As a sportsman, he became a legend by winning seven Tour de France titles between 1999 and 2005. Biking across the vales and hills of France over 3,200 km, winning year after year, made him ‘Superman on wheels’ and spurred great interest in cycling, especially in the U.S., among the public and sponsors.

But, controversies followed and that stupendous feat itself gave rise to whispers about cheating, whispers that only grew louder.

Finally, USADA took keen interest in the allegations and dug deep into the matter; his former teammates were soon singing like canaries before the panel. The anti-doping agency charged him with doping and trafficking, and blacklisted him.

Armstrong, who has pointed out that he has never failed a drug test although being subjected to several, initially challenged the findings, but this was dismissed by a federal court in the U.S. When Armstrong chose not to challenge the agency anymore, while maintaining his innocence, the case was sealed.

As a result, he stands to be stripped of all seven Tour de France titles and an Olympic bronze he won in 2000, along with other international titles since August 1998.

Case for a clean up

The Armstrong case presents the World Cycling Federation a chance to clean up the sport. The federation has often been accused of turning a blind eye to shenanigans of cyclists and being lax in imposing rules related to doping.

For too long has the taint of doping affected sports. Right from the Cold War era, the nations of the Soviet bloc, especially East Germany, were reported to have perfected taking performance enhancing drugs to an art. China’s rise to being a sporting superpower has been coloured by allegations that not all their athletes were ‘clean’. Nearer home, we have had our own share of ignominy with some athletes and weightlifters being blacklisted for doping.

Even as the authorities bring in new controls, dope cheats seem to look for new ways to carry on doing what they do. As Jamaican-born Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson, who was stripped of his 100-m gold for testing positive in the Seoul Olympics of 1988, infamously said: “Everybody is doing it and I’m the one who got caught.”

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