Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Fall from Grace?

Newbs is fast asleep, I can hear him snoring softly upstairs as I type. The Mrs is feeling poorly and me, well, I can't help but feel let down. Let down by someone I didn't personally know but by someone I looked up to, admired, respected and considered a role model. None other than Lance Armstrong. What can one say about this man, this giant among men.

Outstanding athlete, a human being struck down by cancer yet his will, determination and character showed us 'mere mortals' an inner strength that caused us to gasp in awe and reverence. 7 Tour de France wins, a host of other races, books, a charity and foundation set up in his name to raise money and awareness to fight cancer, he was the face of Nike, the man young boys wanted to be like. Lance Armstrong epitomised determination, skill, hard work, training and dedication to his discipline to completely dominate the sport.

Until now, he's fallen from grace, parodied by Zapiro in one of his latest comic strips showing him beat Felix Baumgartner to ground in the epic free fall last week while on his bike. 
We all know the story of the recent scandal. Of how Armstrong has been found guilty of doping, stripped of his titles, lost his sponsors and tarnished his reputation and credibility for ever.  That's why I feel let down and betrayed....because I believed in him and wanted him to succeed and achieve.

I've been  been watching Tour de France for as long as I can remember. I would plead with my parents to allow me stay up late enough to actually push record as the delayed broadcast started....sometimes I was lucky enough to be able to watch the first few minutes before being threatened with having my own bike confiscated...I was only 9 and it was an 11pm show!

I idolised these men, these hero's on their bikes.  Delgado, Fignon, LeMond, Roche, Indurain, Hinault, Millar and so on.  These men represented everything pure and sporting about competition. Unprotected, you couldn't hide, just you, the bike, the pelaton, the breakaway, mountain stages, bunch sprints, time trials...Tour de France was like a 3 week adventure movie, I was addicted...so it seems were some of the riders.

I'll never forget the 1989 Tour. LeMond was 50 seconds behind Fignon going into the final time trial
 and he found 58 seconds. How does an athlete dig so deep, maintain an average speed over 50kph and ultimately beat a fellow great cyclist by 8 seconds on the final stage. 8 seconds in over 3000km's of riding in 21 days...now I took every lesson in life possible from that, every metaphor you can imagine:
Nothings impossible, never give up, keep fighting, give it all you've got, sweat and training and discipline and commitment will yield results....

I didn't need Superman or Batman or even 007....I had cycling legends that I looked up to, wanted to be like. But now, I wonder...I'm curious to know whether one man has ruined a beautiful sport for us. Whether he purposefully sought to deceive and cheat in order to have what he knew he could never win by simply being the best through hard work.

I find it difficult to look Newbs in the face and tell him that he can be all he wants to be, that he should try his hardest, work and sacrifice but never surrender his integrity in order to achieve his dreams.  How can I sit here and tell him that honour, trust, values and morals will be the greatest testament to his character when others can simply shoot up, pop a pill, cheat and dope to beat him. Clearly that victory would be temporary and cheaters never prevail, karma and all that...but it's still not a level laying field in the interim.

So where does this leave us.  Do we shake our heads and watch as a mans life falls apart, records will have to be rewritten and our core values challenged. All the while as he maintained his innocence (they tested him 500 times over a decade and didn't catch him nor could they prove his doping) 
The evidence is overwhelming. I am sad for him and angry with him at the same time.

Our very moral fabric has been torn. What's next, who's next? Can we trust anyone anymore, what of those sportsmen who've never succumbed to the pressures, who still believe in winning because they trained harder and sold out to their sport demonstrating total and absolute commitment but never crossing that line into cheating.

They say nobody remembers who comes second, winning is everything, being second is being the first loser. Now that Armstong has been disqualified and has had his titles revoked, we'll certainly need to remember those second place names as they've now finally won that coveted Tour de France trophy...we hope and pray, for the sake of our kids that they were clean otherwise we'll call on number 3...

So, Lance Armstrong, hero to zero, celebrity to notoriety....I respected you, I admired you, your grit and determination inspired me when I was climbing my own mountain stage.

The irony is that I will still be using your name, citing your achievements and failures when I teach Newbs about the human spirit and about doing and achieving anything you set your mind to except from now on....it will be about how not to emulate arguably one of the greatest athletes the world has ever seen.