Lance Armstrong's fairytale is over. Our pain persists. A cyclist's story was never so gut-wrenching.
What did Lance Armstrong mean to you? Were you a cycling fan who followed all his triumphs with much passion? Or were you just a casual sports buff and admired him for his courage?
Were you a bookworm who chanced upon his account of his successful fight against cancer and the victories thereafter, leaving you every bit inspired? Or did you know someone who suffered from the same horrible disease and felt better after learning of Armstrong’s fairytale?
Or were you completely untouched by the American’s life story and yet shocked when he admitted that he was a dope cheat?
Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace cuts deeply into our collective soul. One may possess a detached perspective on this issue, but the lament remains conspicuous. For an athlete who participated in a sport that is hardly popular, it’s no mean achievement to dominate headlines around the world.
Fairytale gone wrong
The reason behind the manifest public disgust, though, in response to Armstrong’s revelations lies in the nature of his story. It was a fairytale, one which amazed and delighted in equal measure.
This reality wasn’t lost on the former cyclist either. “The truth isn't what I said. And now it's gone … this story was so perfect for so long. You won the disease … it was this mythic perfect story. And it just wasn't true.”
We all love fairytales, don’t we?
An account of a man fighting all odds and achieving the unbelievable was a clichéd, yet perfect script. It has been acted out numerous times, watched by us in cinema halls. But now it was being played out in real life. How cool was that!
The essence of a fairytale, though, lies in its length. If it’s too long, it collapses. This proved to be the Achilles’ heel of Armstrong’s story too.
The American even suggested so in his interview to Oprah Winfrey, claiming it was a tactical mistake to make a comeback in 2009. “We wouldn't be sitting here if I didn't come back,” he said to the TV host.
A disgraced Armstrong now faces a potential legal battle which may bring further pecuniary losses, in addition to the significant ones he has already suffered after a string of sponsors abandoned him. More importantly, a life of dignity seems out of question hereafter.
The 41-year-old’s prospects of regaining public admiration in the future are as likely as India’s chances of playing in the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Almost nil.
The ‘Great American Hero’
Novak Djokovic summed up the general reaction to Armstrong’s revelations well. “"I think it's a disgrace for the sport to have an athlete like this. It would be ridiculous for him to decline and refuse all the charges because it has been proven. He cheated many people around the world with his career, with his life story."
In a world where cynicism is unavoidable, the American cyclist was a beacon of optimism. Armstrong stood as a symbol for the might of an individual. His success was a rejection of the idea of destiny and yet many claimed that he was destined to achieve what he did. The complexity added to the romance of the story.
Armstrong’s fairytale was, arguably, one of the many apogees of the “American Dream.” Barack Obama’s election as the President of The United States is another. The cyclist’s great-grandfather was the son of Norwegian immigrants and the colour of his skin made it easier for the West to accept him as a “Great American Hero.”
Unfortunately, like the American Dream, his image now lies in tatters.
We collectively feel betrayed, let down by Armstrong’s actions. Many accuse the media and the public for creating a larger-than-life image of the cyclist. The creator, though, was Lance Armstrong himself. Spinning a web of lies, he managed to invent a story which would put illustrious writers and playwrights to shame.
The strength of the narrative pulled us in, only to fall apart later. How one could not fall for it, I wonder. But it was too good to be true. How we could believe it, I ask now.