He's still my hero

Susan Flanagan
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Cyclist Lance Armstrong has had his record-setting seven Tour de France titles stripped after allegations of cheating. Columnist Susan Flanagan says the world is being too tough on the guy.

— Photo by The Associated Press

Today I am sad. Because of Lance Armstrong. Not because of what he did or did not do to enhance his cycling performance. But because of the world’s condemnation of him. And mostly because the condemnation knows no end.

I have always liked Lance Armstrong, and although I know people will think me naive, I still like Lance Armstrong despite all the allegations and charges against him.

Yes, he may be arrogant. Yes, he lied. But I still think he has a lot to offer. I think he is a person who does good things but whose job took him to a world where steroids and blood transfusions were the norm.

I think the man who survived testicular cancer and started the Livestrong foundation has to be separated from the man who is now a pariah in fitness circles. Don’t people line up to pay $200 to hear Bill Clinton speak? Is he not arrogant? Did he not lie to the public to protect his reputation?

Did Lance take performance-enhancing drugs? Absolutely. Other cyclists have readily admitted that they, too, doped themselves into performing better. Young cyclists have come forward with stories of how disillusioned they became when they got serious with the sport they loved and were told to bend over for their shot of vitamin B, knowing full-well there was more than vitamin B in the syringe.

I know the fact that many athletes are doping doesn’t make it right, but I think until we fix the whole system or else allow doping in competition, then you can’t condemn one person. Lance Armstrong is a scapegoat.

Critics say in order for Lance’s wins to be upheld, he would have to have been on a level playing field with other cyclists. Lance was on a level playing field. In performance-enhanced cycling he was the winner. For seven years he was the undisputed champion of the Doped-Up Tour de France.


Decades-old phenomenon

It’s not like it’s anything new. Doping has been around for a long time. The first Tour de France scandal came in its second year — 1904 — when the stages lasted through the night and it was hard to monitor cheating. The leading riders all ended up disqualified.

By the 1960s doping was rampant. In 1967, cyclist Tom Simpson died of over-exertion exacerbated by stimulant use during Stage 13 of the Tour. As a result, rest days and daily and overall maximum distances were imposed.

So what’s changed? Nothing.

Sure Lance and the other cyclists of this decade were shaking up their blood like they were making smoothies, but even if they were drug-free, I’d say Lance still would have won. The man has exceptional heart and lung capacity and exceptional stamina. It takes more than massive thighs to ratchet up those mountains.

In the next decade we will see better nutrition and, no doubt, better drugs. The more sophisticated the drugs, the harder they will be to detect. There will always be crooked doctors willing to pre-date prescriptions for salt-induced saddle sores to protect their riders and, more importantly, their salaries. There will always be riders who will be convinced to bend over for their shot of “vitamin B,” knowing full well, they risk expulsion. It’s all for the glory of the game.


Not just cyclists

Do you believe that drug use is not as rampant in other sports? Baseball, tennis, running?

My goodness, even I know the wonders of cortisone. If you’ve ever had bursitis, you know what a relief it is to get a cortisone shot. It’s WD-40 for the joints.

Bursitis is a common affliction in both runners and cyclists due to overuse. Surprisingly, the pain is not bad when you’re running. It’s when you stop and sit that you don’t know what hit you. And you can forget about trying to sleep without pain-masking drugs. When I could stand the pain no more, I lurched over to the doctor’s office begging for relief. My doctor — God bless him — drew a black “X” with his Sharpie on my left buttock and sucker shot me with cortisone. The results are miraculous.

Professional cyclists take cortisone injections if their joints are deteriorating. Anyone who trains at the level of a Tour de France participant is going to have joint deterioration. What cyclist has hip and knee joints that aren’t deteriorating?

Should I be banned from competing in running races? What about the energy gels I mix in water and drink on longer runs? They are packed with sodium, potassium and carbohydrates. Some have caffeine, which is definitely a performance-enhancing drug. What about the Gatorade I use to refuel after a race?

If I take a gel or sports bean, I would be a hypocrite to condemn Lance. I do have trouble if Lance really was the evil ringleader they say he was. If he said, “Guys, you cannot compete unless you get your blood sucked out of you now and then we’ll reinject it once we hit the Pyrenees.” If he said: “Take these steroids now or you’re off the team.” But I wasn’t there so I can’t be sure who said what or who was a willing participant. I do know, though, that many children idolize sports figures. When they realize they can’t aspire to award-winning levels without artificial enhancement, then that’s sad.

I wonder if Lance’s teammates would be drug-free if Lance had not been their team leader? What kind of deal do you think was made with his former team members to get them to extract information? I bet it wasn’t kosher. Maybe they get to stay in the record books while he gets tossed out and burned.

How far can the world go to drive this man into the ground? He’s been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles. He is banned from competing in cycling for the duration of his life. I read yesterday that the New York City Marathon committee has jumped on the bandwagon and erased the fact that Armstrong competed in their event and ran a 2:46 marathon.

Maybe Boston will be next to zap him from their records. Maybe the triathlon committees will start stripping him of the national sprint-course titles he won back in 1989 and 1990 when he was still a teenager.

On what basis did New York decide to take him out of the record books? Was it because they assume he had infused his old, fresher blood back into his system? Did he inject human growth hormone in his butt? Did he use steroids like Erythropoietin that increase the amount of red blood cells? Did the New York City Marathon organizers test for performance-enhancing drugs? Actually, I have no idea what drugs are banned for marathon runners.

Lance had pacers helping him on the course. Maybe they’ll decide one day that pacers cannot be used to get the winners to the finish line first.

Someone recently posted the following on the Canadian Running website: “Wow I sure hope (Lance) is guilty, or all this would really suck.”

That’s it in a nutshell. Think about it before you cast the first stone.


Susan Flanagan loves cycling and can be reached at susan@48degrees.ca The Tour de France is still her favourite sporting event. She highly recommends two books by Lance Armstrong, both New York Times bestsellers. “It’s Not About the Bike:

My Journey Back to Life” (2000) and

“Every Second Counts” (2003).

Newfoundland Crest

plate feedback

Angela writes: “I enjoy your column, it brings back memories when my children were home and I was a very busy mom driving them all around town. They both went to university out of Canada and no longer live at home — so enjoy being busy with your children as in no time they will be gone. We are now empty-nesters and we enjoy ourselves.

“Your article ‘Prize possession’ — I just thought I would correct you on one point. You stated that Wilansky in 1955 developed the Newfoundland tartan. Newfoundland tartan was designed by a cousin of mine, Ted Coleman, Wilansky was the money behind it. Ted worked at Wilansky’s at that time.

“The Newfoundland tartan was designed in 1955 by Ted Coleman. The colours of the tartan are partly based on the lyrics to the ‘Ode to Newfoundland ’ gold-sun; green-the pine clad hills; white-snow; brown for the  minerals under the earth; while the red  represents the province’s British origin. Ted has since passed away, a veteran of (the Second World War) 166 Newfoundland Regiment An artist and gracious man. His wife Joan is … 87 years young… (and still lives in St. John’s)”


Book Club feedback

Anna writes: “Our book club meets at the Arts and Culture Adult library the first Wednesday of every month and everyone is welcomed. We have been meeting for at least 14 years and have discussed a wide variety of books. Thanks for the book suggestions; I will definitely suggest ‘Cloud Atlas’ for a future read.”

Edwina writes: “I really enjoyed your article on book club picks. I, too, am a member of a book (club) of ladies and have read many of the choices you have listed. Very provocative list indeed, but noticeably you did not have the magnificent ‘Book of Negroes’ on there. A must-read for your club, Susan!”

(Susan’s note: We have read “Book of Negroes.” It is magnificently written and the story is heart-wrenching.)

Jane writes: “I chuckled over my McDonald’s coffee this afternoon as I read your article in today’s Telegram. Our book club, The Red Hat Club, had met at noon and decided the next two books we would read. Yes, ‘Cloud Atlas’ is on our list as our next read; then before Christmas is officially put away, ‘Hallelujah! The Welcome Table’ … we do look after our stomachs this time of year. So I shall pass your words along to the rest of our group and get down to reading business. It is nice to hear what others in the province are reading. Hope I see future articles.”

Organizations: Livestrong foundation, New York City Marathon committee, Canadian Running New York Times Book Club The Red Hat Club

Geographic location: Newfoundland, New York City, Boston Canada

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Recent comments

  • Pete Alinszki
    October 31, 2012 - 20:53

    I too agree with Susan. I've been into the sport and have seen so many people, even on national level dope. The use of EPD in cycling is rampant. There are teenager cyclists taking EPD in some cases without thinking of the effects of these on their young bodies. It is absolutely pathetic on the part of the public and the media outlets to bring the man to its public peril where every single fact shouts wide spread use of EPD. Lance was never my Hero, but now he is. Why? Because of him the sport may actually get cleaned from EPD for at least a decade. Because of him, we are witnessing the application of double standards in the rules of law applicable to sport offenses. I have stopped watching all major events organized by UCI since Rasmusen was deliberately removed and replaced by a known drug cheater, both directly and indirectly evidenced. I hate to say it, but because of people with such level of arrogance we are able to address the underlying issues. And yet, the UCI bosses are still confident they have done nothing wrong.

  • barry
    October 30, 2012 - 20:41

    I also couldn't finish this article. If these allegations are true then the man is a lier a cheat and a thief. How can society look up to him as any kind of hero. His ill gotten fame came about because he has no honour. And one would have to think his own cancer could have been triggered by all the chemicals he was pumping into his own body. And lance is now showing the world his true arrogant self by not even coming clean about the whole sorry affair.

  • James
    October 30, 2012 - 16:56

    Cracking article Susan!

  • Jogn
    October 30, 2012 - 15:31

    Wtf ; You should really looking into doping in sport more if your really think Lance Armstrong is a cheat. I hate to break it to you but he was just leveling the playing field. Lance Armstrong is one of the most tested athletes, if not the most tested athlete in history. Do you actually think if it was that easy for him to piss negative so many times no one els was doing it too? Besides that, take a look at how many people around him were using drugs. In the 2008 Tour De France 8 out of 10 of the top finishers tested positive.

  • Lori
    October 30, 2012 - 15:18

    If only he'd admit to some level of guilt! It would make a number of his critics feel a bit better. And there is a *big* difference between Gatorade and blood doping or steroids. Yes, it's a dirty sport. Yes, there's likely a fair amount of performance enhancing drug use done in all sports, but it has to stop somewhere. There have to be lines drawn, and hopefully this is the first in a series of steps to do just that.

  • Really
    October 30, 2012 - 11:40

    Are you living in a drug induced world ? This man used drugs and fraud to win and then lied about it over and over. The 19 witnesses on his team - that also used - are not telling the truth and he is...yea right. What are you saying to the youth - it is alright to use drugs and even if caught you are still a really good sports hero. Sorry just another arrogant, rich by deception Druggie..........................who happened to beat Cancer (and that is good)

  • David
    October 30, 2012 - 11:32

    Message: if you a an immoral, cheating, sociopathic SOB, hopefully you're also cunning enough to take up a laudable cause like cancer as an insurance policy. It won't fool many, but if you ever need it, even a flimsy paddle in a lifeboat is better than none.

  • riick
    October 30, 2012 - 08:53

    susan i love this story but do the people who are draging this man to his toes know what they are doing to the child who survived cancer as he has but all there faith and trust in him with his foundation.there is good and bad in all let this man continue with his good that is for the kids of cancer

  • Dave
    October 30, 2012 - 08:48

    This article summarises my opinion on the whole affair perfectly. He is seemingly the only one being punished for what the vast majority (maybe the whole) were up to.

    • Phillip Davis
      October 30, 2012 - 17:58

      Deto to all that has been said. I hope Lance knows that not all of us are throwing him under the bus. I don't care how many sport enhancing supplements/drugs that you take; it takes a hell of a lot more than that to even participate in the TDF, let alone win 7 of them. Your still a champ Lance. And I haven't even mentioned his accomplishments with cancer. Keep your head high. But it might be a good idea to acknowledge what we all know anyway.

  • wtf
    October 30, 2012 - 08:43

    I could only read about a third of this column and that was all I could stomach. You're not naive, you're a fool. If the allegations are true, and it seems they are, then Armstrong is not a scapegoat but a cheat. And a greedy cheat at that to steal seven championships. He didn't just steal championships, he stole everything that came with those championships - the endorsements, the ability of the winner to promote their charities, etc. Nobody cares if he's arrogant, that's a given for anyone at the top of their field. Your pathetic attempt to compare him to Clinton is laughable. Clinton lied about something that had nothing to do with him becoming president or the duties of the office. Armstrong's lies helped him become champion, over and over. It's said he's bullied, threatened and sued anyone who might expose his cheating. That's more than being arrogant.

    • david
      October 30, 2012 - 15:23

      Th worst thing Armstrong did was ruin several honest people's careers and lives. He is scum, and any remaining supporters are pathetic, weak-minded fools.