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Lance’s descent from glory to ignominy

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iol spt jan12 Armstrong

AP

Disgraced former cyclist Lance Armstrong. Picture: Thao Nguyen

AUSTIN, Texas – Lance Armstrong's reported admission to Oprah Winfrey that he used performance-enhancing drugs likely means he will go down in history as the most brazen drug cheat the sport has ever seen.

The disgraced American cyclist's comments, reported Monday by USA Today, rewrite 14 years of deception and repeated denials that he used banned substances to win scores of international races, including the Tour de France seven times.

His years of dominance in the sport's greatest race raised cycling's profile in the United States to new heights and gave Armstrong a platform to promote cancer awareness and research.

But the Texan's world will likely cave in further once the admission airs, with legal issues to face along with further backlash from the cancer community and his own Livestrong charity, to which he apologized prior to the interview.

Richard Pound, the former head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, said he would have liked to see Armstrong face a proper interrogation panel and that the confession could backfire if critics aren't satisfied with the questions and answers he gives Winfrey.

“I would have preferred he did it in front of 'Face The Nation' or 'Meet the Press' and get some hard questions from people,” Pound told AFP from his home in Montreal, referring to prominent US Sunday television news talk shows.

“What he risks if he gets a softball outcome is people will be even more put off. His effort to redeem himself will have fallen on the rocks.”

Once a symbol of perseverance in the face of incredible odds, cancer survivor Armstrong sensationally conceded defeat in his fight to contest the doping charges against him in August.

The US Anti-Doping Agency published a damning report late last year that laid bare his guilt, claiming Armstrong was at the heart of “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.”

“He was not just a part of the doping culture on his team,” said USADA. “He enforced and re-enforced it.”

International Cycling Union president Pat McQuaid told reporters he was “sickened” by the revelations, adding: “Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling.”

The apparent decision to bare his soul to Winfrey leaves Armstrong's sporting legacy in tatters. But for all his detractors, he still has some admirers, especially among his American fans.

For Armstrong's supporters, the doping allegations pale in comparison to his battle with life-threatening cancer and the work of his charitable foundation, which he founded to help others living with the disease.

Now, however, the cyclist is left with the tough task of explaining to those who stuck with him for many years why he didn't come clean sooner.

Doctors had given Armstrong a less than 50 percent chance of survival when he was diagnosed in 1996 with testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain.

He persevered through surgery and chemotherapy and returned to cycling but was little known in his homeland when he won his first Tour de France title in 1999.

The Lance Armstrong Foundation has raised almost $500 million since it was created in 1997.

But in the aftermath of the allegations, several top sponsors dropped Armstrong, forcing him to quit as chairman of Livestrong.

Even in his glory days of cycling, many were skeptical of his powers.

In 1999, a trace amount of a banned corticosteroid was found, which cycling officials explained by saying Armstrong was authorized to use a small amount of cream containing the drug to treat saddle sores.

After his 2000 Tour triumph, French authorities probed his US Postal Service team but brought no charges.

Critics seized on the sportsman's friendship with Italian doctor Michele Ferrari, who was banned by Italian authorities over doping in 2002.

In 2004, a Texas promotions company balked at paying him a $5

million bonus for his sixth Tour title because of doping allegations by European media.

In that court case, former teammate Frankie Andreu and his wife, Betsy, testified that Armstrong told doctors during his cancer treatment that he had taken steroids and other performance enhancers.

Two books published in Europe, “L.A. Confidential” and “L.A. Official”, alleged that he doped and in 2005, French newspaper L'Equipe reported that urine samples taken during the 1999 Tour that were later re-tested were positive for the blood-booster EPO.

Armstrong fought back with denials and even court action, before briefly launching a comeback in 2009.

USADA chief Travis Tygart, who spent years investigating Armstrong and others – and had to endure numerous death threats along the way – described the six 1999 samples as “flaming positive” in an interview last week.

But in the end, the sheer weight of evidence against Armstrong – including testimony from at least a dozen former teammates–

proved too much to withstand. – Sapa-AFP


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