Lance Armstrong's long con a blow to believers
Now that the doping, duplicitous cyclist has been unmasked, those yellow wristbands look more like a symbol of gullibility than of hope
Eighty million yellow wristbands worn as symbols of hope now represent duplicity.
Seven yellow jerseys worn as mantles of a champion now represent fraud.
Who is Lance Armstrong? Tour de France winner, cancer survivor, heroic conqueror of mountains and adversity. But we always had suspicions, and finally we know the truth: Armstrong is a con man.
People who still think otherwise are deluding themselves the same way Armstrong deluded them.
There's a saying among athletes that only dopes get caught for doping. And only dopes believe stories that are too good to be true. Armstrong doped and duped with equal precision.
"We were good actors," Armstrong teammate Tyler Hamilton said. "We had two faces."
Nike terminated Armstrong's contract on Wednesday, citing "overwhelming evidence" that Armstrong "misled" his sponsor for a decade. When Nike disowns one of its stars, particularly one whose Livestrong brand adorns 98 different products, you know he is poison. Nike stood by Tiger Woods when he was revealed to be a serial adulterer and Kobe Bryant when he was charged with sexual assault (charges later dropped). Nike re-signed Michael Vick after he served prison time for animal cruelty.
But Nike wants nothing more to do with a defiant cheater who often played the cancer card when deflecting criticism, evading questions and belittling doubters.
Minutes before Nike blacklisted Armstrong, he announced his resignation as chairman of the cancer awareness foundation - Livestrong - he created in 1997 and built into a powerful charitable force. He said he didn't want Livestrong to suffer "negative effects from the controversy surrounding my cycling career".
Armstrong, 41, was stripped of his seven Tour titles and banned from competition for life by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (Usada) after an investigation proved he was a user, leader and enforcer of systematic, sophisticated doping practices.
Armstrong decided not to challenge the findings or cross-examine his accusers in an arbitration hearing. Usada released a dossier last week with nearly 1,000 pages of sworn testimony from 26 witnesses, lab reports, e-mails and financial records.
The report pieced together the fragments that have eroded Armstrong's granite reputation through the years. Armstrong used performance enhancers EPO, human growth hormone, steroids and oxygen-boosting blood transfusions. He pressured teammates to do the same or find another job. He stored drugs in his refrigerators in Nice, France, and Girona, Spain. He eluded testers by planting lookouts at team hotels, sneaking masking agent IVs into his room, being unclear about his whereabouts, hiding syringes and covering up a positive result. He made US$1 million in payments to a creepy, nefarious physician known in cycling as "Dr Blood".
It's Not About the Bike was the title of his autobiography, or should we call it a work of fiction? He described the tenacity that enabled him to come back from life-threatening testicular cancer and win the most gruelling event in sport a record seven consecutive times. It wasn't about the bike; it was about Lance and his journey, a beacon for those reading the book during chemotherapy sessions or while lying in a hospital bed.
Turns out it wasn't about the bike, or the purity of Armstrong's will. It was about breaking the rules and relying on synthetic substances to beat everybody else.
The most damning revelations come from 11 of Armstrong's teammates. He has depicted Floyd Landis and Hamilton as axe-grinders, but he cannot discredit the poignant confession and apology of George Hincapie, his trusted lieutenant through every mile.
There are three common defences of Armstrong. The first says all pro riders were doping and a doped Armstrong was still the best on an "even playing field".
The second excuse, Armstrong's refrain that he never tested positive, is bogus. He did at least once, and lied about a saddle sore that never existed. Positive tests aren't necessary to prove doping. Barry Bonds, Hincapie and Marion Jones are among those who never tested positive, either.
Third, Armstrong has helped raise US$500 million through his foundation. He visits patients. He lobbies legislators. Give him a pass.
A truly courageous Armstrong could have confessed, used his high profile to pull cycling from its overdosed depths and waged a global campaign against doping.
Instead, he punched his reeling sport in the gut.
Perhaps Armstrong will persist in his denials, as the pitiful Pete Rose did, and end up a Las Vegas casino greeter. He's banned from his goal of winning Hawaii's Ironman Triathlon. Anheuser Busch no longer wants him for commercials. His brand is as useless as a flat tyre.
The long con is over. He should do what he chose not to do as an athlete: come clean.