Back in 2005, I was a confused college student, and was often broke for cash. Summer vacations were still part of our lives, and I’d wonder what to do when not traveling. I was going through a tough period, resulting from various issues most teenagers claim to go through. While browsing through the ‘Biography’ section of Crosswords, I came across a book I had heard of. ‘It’s not about the Bike’, by Lance Armstrong. The guy had only recently won his final title (7th) and retired. Maybe it was time to see what the hoohaa was about. I had watched him, but had treated him no more than another dominant figure in the sports world- like Michael Schumacher, Australian Cricket Team and Pete Sampras. I couldn’t afford to buy the book, priced at Rs. 450, so I thought I’d read the foreword and look for better buys.
I stopped reading 4 days later, at the same store.
Every day, I’d start reading by Noon till the store closed late in the evening. I wish I’d bought it, but I’d walk all the way to the store every single morning with great anticipation. What next? Did he succeed? Did he beat that damned cancer? How in the world did he ride again? How did he WIN?! No way. To the store’s credit, they let me be, and soon, I’d finished the entire book, and just for continuity sake, I moved onto his next, ‘Every Second Counts’. To say it was inspirational is mild, because it was an entire epiphany on paper. And the amazing part is- I wasn’t the only one to feel this way.
Over the years, those books changed lives, saved lives, inspired lost souls, and gave strength to a world on the brink. Lance Armstrong wasn’t a cyclist. He wasn’t an athlete. He transcended the very idea of sports, and became the closest thing there was to a superhero amongst us mortals. To read those words, whether exaggerated or not, truth or half fiction, was to heal yourself in a dark stage of your life. To read those words after achieving success, was to want more. It was to feel human, and to be brought back down to Earth. It was to feel respect for a man using a saddle to teach us the meaning of suffering, and beating irreversible human conditions. Death and disgrace, were but some of them.
What does it all mean now?
We could have been getting inspired, day in and day out, through the greatest lie in sporting history. Or we could have been standing up and applauding the strongest human that ever lived. To be honest, it ceases to matter anymore. With the USADA obsessively hunting down dope cheats across all arenas, you’d think they’re going to take more than a decade to put right the past. And what’s the point? The startling number of ex-greats that have admitted or found guilty, are so many that- as a spectator- you wonder if the field was level after all. There will come a time, especially in pro cycling, where doping could very well be one of the ‘requirements’, with the clean guys competing in another league of their own. The lines between right and wrong, in this day and age where most athletes are bordering on the brink with their machinery abilities, have been blurred for years now.
Unfortunately, the poster boy for this struggle, to achieve some kind of inane balance between the past and future, has been the greatest of them all.
For his admirers all over the globe, it is difficult to believe that the man who beat 3rd stage testicular cancer, began walking again, began competing, and then going on the most astonishing time-stopping winning streak of all time- has GIVEN UP on his fight for justice…well, it’s a mismatch of sorts. The athlete Armstrong may have hung up his legs long back, but the superhuman in him was alive and kicking. There was not a day, where you’d mentally be able to separate Armstrong and his struggle to clear his legacy. So what’s the point of letting them take it away officially? If there was a fear of his name being tarnished, that was achieved long back the day he was named as the ‘ringleader’ of the cheats. But he fought, and with great success, at all times. Over 500 tests came back negative over the years, but there were whispers that he’d found a way around the system- thanks to the heavy medication required to overcome his disease. Still, there was no physical evidence. Disgruntled ex-teammates, ex-friends, ex-colleagues came out of the woodwork and crawled to reach Armstrong’s Achilles heal. But he stayed, and he continued to take the fight into the third decade.
Even if he was guilty, and he wasn’t admitting it- surely the USADA and the cycling drug testing system don’t expect us to believe that they weren’t ‘up to the standards’ for so long. How can such a high profile athlete go undetected for so long, given the massive leaps in technology and systems in every sport? If anything, half the blame must be put on an inadequate, irritating and unprofessional system of dope-testing, where only blatant cases like Landis are caught and made scapegoats of. Every sport must have a foolproof system to detect errors, and no expense must be spared. There should be machines doing the work humans are still doing- even the urine and blood tests must be automatic. It’s 2012, after all.
This mess could have been avoided long back, if not for such an impotent system. This can be applied to other sports as well, but this has reached a stage where a sporting icon isn’t in question anymore. This man is much more. There is so much at stake. It is like trying to bring down the Mother Teresa of the sporting world. If it was an empire built on lies, there will be mass suicide in oversensitive areas, and a lot of disillusioned people losing the fight before starting it. Nature will take over, and human will shall be suppressed again.
But does an empire built on lies, or half-truths, not matter? With its credibility on the brink, and with its owner giving up his fight against perceived injustice, does it not have a voice anymore? Will they all go into remission and die?
Because he didn’t let them.
If he was a liar, he was the greatest white liar in the history of the world. If he thought he could give the world a lot of hope, and belief that Cancer is beatable at any stage, he may have used drugs to make us believe. It isn’t any different from the father who told his little son that they were playing a charming game of hide-and-seek before being pulled into concentration camp. Just go with it. It could be a lie that helped his son smile while he went to sleep. But it’s a lie that made him happy. A lie that helped us believe
If he wasn’t a liar, and has just decided to let justice take its course, then there could be a bigger picture involved. Whatever the case, his legacy can’t fall overnight, because it stands on the thousands of millions of dreams and hopes that he has created. Just by living. Very strongly.
And by not giving up.
The loss of his Seven grand titles isn’t what’s hurting us, it’s the belief that he could give into a ‘paperwork’ fight that is only the 3rd biggest battle of his life.
When I go into a government office tomorrow, there isn’t anything that’s going to help me believe that I can beat the damn system anymore.