Lance Armstrong’s Downfall

Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong has been banned for life from cycling and stripped of his titles, with all 14 years of his meteoric career officially expunged from the records.  According to International Cycling Union (known by its French acronym of UCI) president Pat McQuaid, “Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling.”  Armstrong had previously been banned from the sport by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), which found “overwhelming” evidence that he was involved in “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program.”

Estimates are that the scandal will cost Armstrong at least $150 million in lost corporate sponsorships from companies such as Nike, RadioShack, Anheuser-Busch and Oakley.  Despite that, all four plan to continue supporting Armstrong’s anti-cancer charity, the Livestrong Foundation, which has raised more than $400 million since 1997.  In 2011, Livestrong served more than 325,000 individuals.  Additionally, the French Cycling Federation (FCF) has asked Armstrong to return € 2.95 million (the equivalent of $4 million) in prize money. Armstrong’s team sponsor, the U.S. Postal Service, also paid the cyclist more than $12 million in performance bonuses between 1999 and 2005, which it may ask to be returned.  Additionally, Armstrong may be stripped of the bronze medal he won at the 2002 Sydney Olympics, although he will be allowed to keep his yellow jerseys.

Armstrong continues to deny that he has ever used performance-enhancing drugs, noting that he has passed multiple drug tests.  Despite the denials, he recently changed his Twitter bio to reflect his new status from “Father of five amazing kids, seven-time Tour de France winner, full-time cancer fighter, part-time triathlete” to “Raising my five kids.  Fighting cancer.  Swim, bike, run and golf whenever I can.”

Armstrong became a wealthy man over his career, amassing a fortune worth $125 million and he was the sport’s greatest star.  The 2005 tour de France – the last that Armstrong won — drew 15 million viewers watching from along the road, while another two billion worldwide followed the race on television.  In 2005, cycling was a $6 billion industry in the United States alone.

Although Armstrong’s downfall is of epic proportion, he is not the first athlete to be discredited.  Legendary Olympian Jim Thorpe lost his gold medals when it was learned he had played professional sports, which was not allowed in 1912.  The medals were restored in 1982 – 30 years after Thorpe’s death.  Ben Johnson – once dubbed “the fastest man in the world” – was stripped of his gold medal after he tested positive for a banned steroid.  Track superstar Marion Jones, the first woman Olympian to win five medals, pleaded guilty to perjury after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.  She also was banned from the 2008 Beijing Olympics and sentenced to six months in prison and two years of probation for lying about her drug use.