Friday, August 24, 2012

Living strong

"For me, Williams is the classic ballplayer of the game on a hot August weekday, before a small crowd, when the only thing at stake is the tissue-thin difference between a thing done well and a thing done ill."
- John Updike, “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu”

Things used to be different. In a simpler time, Lance Armstrong only elicited one emotion in me: boredom. It was like Tiger Woods at the height of his powers. There was no competition, no suspense, no sport. For seven straight years, Lance went out from wherever the le Tour de France starts and ended up with a large enough lead to spend the last day coasting through Paris and sipping champagne.* It was amazing the way he won for seven years straight, but it wasn’t very exciting.

* Insert German joke here.

Even after he retired, I didn’t care much. Sure those damn yellow bracelets became a vapid fashion statement, but they still raised a ton of money for cancer research. And yes, Lance may have spent his post-racing days hopping from hot wife to cute singer* to Olsen twin, but is that really any worse than how other greats have lived out their golden years? It’s not like Lance gained fifty pounds and went the Kirby Puckett route on us. It’s not even as bad and Michael Jordan’s fashion misadventures or his ongoing (failing) stint as a basketball executive.

*I do enjoy the musical styling of Sheryl Crowe from time to time. Personal favorites include this, this, and of course this.

So if I haven’t really given two stages about Lance Armstrong in over a decade, why bring him up now? Since his first retirement in 2005, he’s been in the news plenty. There was the French investigation, the masseuse, more former employees and teammates, Floyd Landis after his “whiskey and steak” defense failed. There was a book, an LA Times investigation, and a US Anti-Doping Agency court case. All of those and probably more tried to corner him on various doping charges over the years.

Really, why not? It is cycling after all. During a time when seemingly every other notable name in the sport was linked to performance enhancing drugs Lance somehow manage to float above the fray. And that’s the thing: he beat every court case, passed every drug test, and won every public relations battle. The man was made of Teflon, but it was just like before: boring.

Well now Lance is bored too – or maybe just tired – but either way, he is done. Facing still more allegations of PED use by the USADA, Armstrong announced Thursday night that he would decline to fight the charges, essentially giving the USADA free reign to punish him as they see fit.

I’ll admit I have no idea what has gone on behind the scenes here: why the USADA has pursued Armstrong as fervently as it has, how the constant lawsuits and court cases have worn on the seven-time Tour champion, or perhaps most importantly, the nature of the evidence presented against Lance in this new case. I don’t know any of that, but I do know I am no longer bored with Armstrong’s saga.

Some may see this latest move as giving up, some may see it as an admission of guilt. Everyone, however, realizes that it will likely end with USADA chief Travis Tygart personally cleaning off Armstrong’s mantle and setting fire to every yellow jersey the Texan cyclist has ever worn. When it’s all over Lance’s name will be wiped from the record books and his seven consecutive Tour victories redistributed to the runners up. All that will remain of that stupendous run will be Lance’s knowledge of the difference between a thing done well and a thing done ill. Armstrong too surely realizes the magnitude of what is at stake. And if Armstrong is at peace with all of this then I am no longer bored by the man, I am awed.

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