Even if he had to look up the meaning of the word and found nothing of him to fit the description, Lance Armstrong is a cheat. The doping admissions made by the cycling legend in an exclusive interview with Oprah Winfrey on Thursday might not be shocking to those who had all along doubted his credibility, but to those, including thousands of cancer survivors, who believed in his myth, this must be a shattering revelation. In what is surely one of the most sensational admissions the world of sport has ever witnessed, the American confessed that he had doped for his record seven Tour de France titles from 1999 through to 2005. In all but justifying doping in the ‘win-at-all-costs’ culture that he followed, Armstrong has raised further doubts about the integrity of not just cycling but all sports where the doping menace has been in focus since Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson was packed off from the Seoul Olympic Games in 1988 after testing positive for a steroid. Armstrong’s admissions should also raise misgivings over the efforts of anti-doping authorities in tackling the menace at the highest level, even if no complicity of officials is established in any possible cover-up during his ‘fabled’ career, as had often been alleged.
As we applaud the meticulous case that the U.S. Anti Doping Agency (USADA) pieced together against the American icon that led to his life-ban and loss of titles last October, we should not lose sight of the investigative zeal of a handful of journalists who pursued the truth against threats and defamation suits for well over a decade. David Walsh of the Sunday Times heads that list. The role of fellow cyclists — led by the discredited Tour de France winner of 2006, Floyd Landis, and disqualified Athens Olympic gold medal winner Tyler Hamilton — in exposing Armstrong after years of denials, should also not be discounted, though both belong to the list of ‘dopers’ that the sport has produced through the past decade. Armstrong’s assertion that doping was a “level playing field” only strengthens the belief that the sport needs cleansing through a programme monitored by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Both WADA and USADA have demanded that Armstrong confess on oath to bring this shameful chapter to a close. They are right, since many still believe Armstrong might not have told the whole truth for fear of far-reaching legal and financial implications. A Federal investigation into allegations against him was closed without explanation last February and there could be justification in re-opening it. As Armstrong joins a long list of dope cheats who went out in disgrace, we can only lament the erosion of values that has brought sport to such a pass.