Lance Armstrong has found it increasingly difficult to destroy the credibility of his accusers. Photo: LUCAS JACKSON
Finally, Lance Armstrong has stopped saying it ain’t so.
There is, as yet, no admission of guilt. Probably never will be. Maybe there is not one to give.
Surely it speaks volumes that the highly defiant and serially litigious Armstrong will not challenge a federal judge’s decision that the US Anti-Doping Agency had the authority to hold a hearing into the allegations that he used performance enhancing drugs.
‘‘Enough is enough,’’ is how Armstrong defended his decision not to defend himself any more - thus forfeiting his seven Tour de France titles, and submitting to a life ban from his sport.
And, certainly, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that even a man as indefatigable as Armstrong could simply be exhausted by the legal process. Tired of having to defend himself, and his amazing record, against accusations that began with whispers that his deeds - in an age of drug cheats - simply defied belief. Against reports of tampered samples, generous donations that might have caused officials to turn a blind eye and, most damagingly, the mounting testimony of fellow riders and team officials.
Armstrong cast himself as a victim in the USADA’s star chamber. An innocent man unable to defend himself against the vast bureaucracy of the anti-drug crusaders. A mere struggler at the back of the legal peloton. An ‘‘unconstitutional witch-hunt’’ he called it.
‘‘The toll that this has taken on my family, and my work for our foundation and on me leads me to where I am today,’’ said Armstrong in a prepared statement. ‘‘Finished with this nonsense.’’
Armstrong’s link between the drug accusations, and the work of his foundation, is telling. His accusers might say cunning.
Throughout the long, sad investigation of Armstrong’s legitimacy, it has been impossible for many to separate the rider from the charitable institution. This has in turn created a moral dilemma. If Armstrong is a cheat, then is the almost $US500 million he has raised for cancer research and treatment with those grammatically annoying yellow ’Livestrong’ wrist bands somehow tainted? Or, given he might have been just one of dozens of cheating cyclists who rode the Tour, did the ends justify the means?
For many who idolised both the rider, and the benefactor, the easiest thing to do was to ignore the white noise of scandal; to accept the word of Armstrong, who defiantly tweeted last year when yet another investigation was opened: ’’500 drug controls world-wide, never failed a test. I rest my case.’’
In the absence of that tainted sample, or a confession from Armstrong, many will no doubt continue to plead his case. Some because they genuinely believe he deserves to be taken on his word given the evidence - or lack thereof. Others because they would never hear a word against St Lance, and wish to remain in their self-deluding cocoons.
However, patently, ’’no positive test’’ defence has weakened considerably in recent years. Once, the image of drug cheats was the ugly caricatures of bulging sprinters and bearded female shot-putters from behind the Iron Curtain whose samples turned test tubes purple. In particular, the 2002 BALCO case (involving the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative, which was accused of supplying anabolic steroids to Major League Baseball players) demonstrated how nimbly the dopers now avoid detection.
Marion Jones? No positive samples. Just a confession and a jail term. Armstrong has also found it increasingly difficult to destroy the credibility of his accusers. Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton were easily vilified because they cheated themselves. Yet it has become apparent in a sport where, at least for a time, doping was endemic, the old maxim about taking a thief to catch a thief rings true.
At the London Olympics, I spoke with a once-staunch Armstrong defender who had just returned from the Tour de France. He talked sadly of the mounting body of evidence against the great rider. Of how, across the sport, it had become increasingly difficult to believe everyone was lying, except Lance.
For millions of good reasons, Armstrong will always be a superhero. Yet, now, he is without his yellow cape.