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Lance Armstrong: From icon to drug user, trafficker, bully and cover-up artist

Thursday, 11 October 2012 - 11:26am IST Updated: Thursday, 11 October 2012 - 11:32am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph

Armstrong broke hearts of the people who saw him as a life force struggling against illness and death.
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The revolting pharmaceutical orgy revealed by the US Anti-Doping Agency brings Lance Armstrong down with a crash louder than Ben Johnson or the Balco laboratory drug cheats. They were mere chancers. Armstrong was an icon of cancer fund-raising who rode that cause as self-servingly as he pedalled his bike.

In the most sensational expose since Ben Johnson tested positive after winning the Olympic 100m in Seoul in 1988, Armstrong's front as a global poster boy for the fight against terminal disease is torn away to reveal a user, trafficker, bully and cover-up artist who ran his own personal empire of deceit.

Armstrong denies his guilt but has decided not to fight USADA's ban.

There will be those who still say that the raising of tens of millions of dollars for research outweighs his own personal mendacity, which he denies. They forget that the USADA talk of the "dangerous" life-threatening chemicals sloshing around the US Postal Service Team when Armstrong was its leader. Never mind the lying, the intimidation of those who challenged him and the fake victories in the Tour de France. Since when were campaigners for life and health allowed to lead a secret second life in which they and others assaulted their vital organs with pharmaceutical drugs to make a bicycle go quicker?

"To all the cynics, I'm sorry for you I'm sorry you can't believe in miracles. This is a great sporting event and hard work wins it," he once announced, after one of his seven Tour wins. That chutzpah stands in bitter contrast to the USADA's forensic picking apart of an institutionalised sporting fraud.

Here is another egregious Armstrong riposte, to a curious reporter: "This is my body, and I can do whatever I want to it. I can push it, study it, tweak it, listen to it. Everybody wants to know what I am on. What am I on? I am on my bike busting my ass six hours a day; what are you on?"

As the detail of this arrogance and contempt for sporting values emerged, one's mind imagined Armstrong competing in a triathlon in Elliott City, Maryland, three days ago, after the organisers ignored WADA sanctions to allow him to take part. According to agency reports, "Armstrong finished the 70-mile swim, bike and run in four hours, 16 minutes at the Revolution3 Half-Full Triathlon, racing in a wave of about 50 fellow cancer survivors." Brock Yetso, president of the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults, said: "We had two individuals who decided they did not want to race based on our decision and 300 who said they wanted to. So I think numbers speak for themselves."

"I think he's a great inspiration for anybody," said Lennie Phillips of Kensington, Maryland, who survived brain cancer and competed alongside Armstrong. "All of these allegations, whether they're true or not, I don't know, but he still had to go through all the treatments."

Phillips is entitled to his view on Armstrong's double life. He sees the work done in cancer laboratories, the lives saved, including his own. But the rest of us are entitled to ask whether Armstrong's relentless campaigning was part of the puppet show: an attempt to construct a saintly image that would ease his conscience and protect him from gossip. As it happens, Armstrong protected himself robustly: with threats, denunciations and an aggressive faith in his untouchability.

Johnson was the big sacrifice of the seediest era in track and field. He was busted, held up as the sport's most reviled criminal and used to demonstrate a patchy determination to rid athletics of fraudsters. The Balco laboratories doping scandal swept through baseball and US track and field, claiming Marion Jones, Kelli White, Tim Montgomery and our own Dwain Chambers.

Back then it was hard to imagine a more graphic insight into the canyon between what we see and what really goes in with syringes, pills and vials.

Armstrong persuaded himself that a hyper-aggressive stance in the face of suspicion would crush his accusers. He forgot that a vast network of cyclists and officials were involved in cultivating the bright shining lie of the cyclist who could ride forever. Sooner of later it was bound to come out.

Like many anti-heroes of American 'crime', Armstrong holed himself up and was prepared to take everyone down with him. The people whose hearts he has really broken are doubtless those who saw him as a survivor, a unique life force whose real struggle was not against the Alps but illness and death.

As if cancer were not bad enough, they had to be conned by their idol.

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