As we watch the staggering collapse of perhaps the greatest sports legend in history, we can’t help thinking about the mountain Armstrong couldn’t climb.
The Pyrenees and high Alps were easy for Armstrong and his Blue Train — and now we know why. Hors Categorie wasn’t a challenge but telling the truth proved a more difficult mountain.
It’s the high road he could still have taken but his ego would not allow. As we watch his sad free-fall, we think that even at the last minute he could have minimized the damage to a large degree.
The Boss should have been working on his admission speech since he knew that the USADA findings would go public. The game was up and no federal attorney would inexplicably save him at the last minute. He had 50 days to salvage a part of his reputation and try to reframe how people would react to the damning testimony.
Armstong knew the bombs that USADA would drop and he’s smart enough to figure out the implications. It was time to move from a denial strategy to a avoid core meltdown strategy. Like where all your longterm corporate sponsors terminate you a week later and the entire media declare you a sporting disgrace.
While his deceit and denials are monumental, there are plenty of people around the world who would have let him off easy for his inspirational work in the fight against cancer.
At this critical moment when his entire career was about to be re-written, Armstrong didn’t take the leadership role he was always so skilled at playing.
All Lance had to say was a variation on the Hincapie and Leipheimer admission. I apologize to my family, friends, teammates and fans. Like most everyone I raced against back then, none of us could compete without resorting to doping. I’m sad and sorry, yada-yada. Things would have been very bad for a while but generally people have short memories and Livestrong lives on.
He just couldn’t bring himself to tell the truth. Unlike Tyler Hamilton, he didn’t agree that the truth will set you free. Unlike Floyd Landis, he didn’t want his conscience back. Unlike everyone else on his US Postal team — with the glaring exception of Kevin Livingston — he sees no good reason to come clean. He won’t do it for himself or his kids or even the love of his sport. A sport that is ready for a deep cleanse with only one holdout, the most famous and influential rider of his generation.
Who doesn’t still have tremendous respect for Armstrong’s relentless efforts to battle cancer? Who still isn’t impressed with his energy, his good works, his desire to be a force for good?
That’s what makes this lost opportunity the real failure in this whole mess. The man could suffer with the best, dig deeper than almost anymore, push himself to physical and mental extremes but he could not let go of the lie — even when there was really no other course of action. The punch line US Postal liked to use in winning all those tours was the mail carrier line — “we deliver.” Everything but an admission.
There’s a long history of public rehabilitation here in the States — from Michael Vick and his pit bulls to Tiger Woods and his serial affairs. Those guys aren’t even on the same planet as Armstrong in terms of charity work.
Honestly, we can’t explain Armstrong’s unwillingness to finally admit doping without resorting to words like psychotic and blind arrogance. It simply goes too far beyond normal human behavior.
We’ll always wonder how things could ahve been different if Armstrong had take a different road home.