Lance Armstrong, in his interview with Oprah Winfrey, has finally publicly admitted what everyone already knew: he used performance-enhancing drugs throughout his career, and heavily after beating cancer.
Hopefully people will understand both why he used drugs and why he refused to admit to using drugs, and will eventually remember him for his efforts to aid cancer victims through his Livestrong Foundation. It is unlikely anyone will look back on his cycling career and see how amazing it was, drugs or not, but that was a risk he knew he was taking.
Lance Armstrong by all accounts, is a forceful, hyper-competitive individual; always in control, always getting what he wants. As one English cycling commentator put it, he’d love to have a beer with Lance Armstrong but wouldn’t want to have two. Apparently Armstrong doesn’t do “low-key’ or “relaxed.” He is an intense individual all the time.
During his most successful period, 1998–2005, Armstrong admits he was an arrogant bully with a “ruthless, relentless, win-at-all-costs attitude.”
It is this competitive spirit, this unwillingness to accept anything but what he wants from himself or anyone around him, which propelled Armstrong to the top of his field, and which eventually forced him into using performance-enhancing drugs.
Artificially-Elevated Level Playing Field
Armstrong wanted to win and he would do whatever it took to win. He pushed himself to his absolute maximum, and when that wasn’t enough to keep up with the other top cyclists, who were already using drugs, Armstrong did what he had to do to win.
This was a man who never spared himself any pain or suffering in training or in a race—he did whatever it took to win. When it took using banned substances, transfusions, injections, he did those things because he was not willing to accept anything less than all-out effort.
When asked, Armstrong replied, “In my opinion, I couldn’t win without doping—not in that generation.”
Armstrong said the dictionary’s definition of “cheating” was to gain an advantage on a rival or foe. “I did not feel I was cheating to gain an advantage on a rival or foes,” he explained. “I did this on a level playing field.”
Armstrong took drugs to win, but to say Armstrong won because he took drugs would be to ignore what the rest of the peloton was doing. Armstrong took drugs to put himself on the artificially elevated performance level of the rest of the front-runners. What got him his wins was his natural ability, his effort in training, his indomitable will, his willingness to suffer, and his refusal to let anybody beat him.
Even though he was using banned substances, Armstrong was still the best cyclist of his era. He trained harder and rode harder than the competition. Unfortunately he will likely never again be respected as an amazing athlete and an incredibly talented cyclist, but he was. He couldn’t have beaten everybody else, over and over, just on the strength of his drug program, because all the top teams were using the same program.
Armstrong won by being better. If cycling had been drug-free he would have won just as many races.
Next: Focus on Fighting Cancer