Armstrong legacy mix of dope cheat, inspiration

by Jim Slater, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Oct 14 2012 04:24 PM | Updated as of Oct 15 2012 12:30 AM

WASHINGTON - Lance Armstrong was scorned this week as a dope cheat whose seven Tour de France cycling triumphs are forever tainted.

Next weekend, he will be hailed in his Texas hometown as an inspiration to people fighting cancer, his victories a symbol of how cancer can be overcome.

And there's plenty of evidence to support both portraits of the 41-year-old American, the yin and yang of a man who has proclaimed his innocence even as former teammates have tarnished their own reputations to testify against him.

The US Anti-Doping Agency unveiled its report to the International Cycling Union on why it banned Armstrong for life in August and stripped him of his Tour de France titles, which the UCI could yet challenge.

The move came after Armstrong decided not to fight USADA charges in an arbitration hearing, having lost a US federal court fight objecting to the system in which athletes can appeal the accusations.

Among 202 pages of findings and much more evidence outlined by USADA was testimony from 26 people, including 11 former Armstrong teammates.

Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis were already admitted dope cheats but USADA issued six-month bans to George Hincapie, Tom Danielson, Levi Leipheimer, David Zabriskie and Christian Vande Velde based on their testimony.

There is even talk the evidence might spark legal court cases, although the US Justice Department conducted its own 18-month investigation earlier this year and decided not to file any charges against Armstrong.

"The federal government spent a considerable amount of hours and manpower on its case, and if one tenth of what USADA is saying was true, the federal government would've brought charges against Lance a long time ago," Armstrong spokesman Mark Fabiani told the Los Angeles Times.

American sports channels made passing mention of the revelations of the details against Armstrong, but the focus was mainly on the Major League Baseball playoffs and American football, both professional and collegiate.

Armstrong has maintained his innocence yet is unwilling to challenge the evidence against him in a hearing and face his accusers.

While Armstrong cites a career without a positive dope test, the same could be said for Marion Jones, a disgraced former US athletics star who admitted being a dope cheat after a career in which she never tested positive.

But for all the sporting accusations, Armstrong will celebrate next weekend the 15th anniversary of his charity foundation, which has evolved into the cancer-fighting Livestrong Foundation.

"We believe that unity is strength, knowledge is power and attitude is everything," Livestrong says on its website. "Our leaders and donors provide vision and support for our mission."

While Armstrong's former teammates were united in naming him a dope cheat and the accusations rocked his image, he has sought to put the matter behind him and pursue his efforts to inspire others to fight cancer.

Donations to Livestrong have totaled almost $500 million since 1997 and the money has funded life-changing programs to help people with cancer.

When the US national football team tries to advance in qualifying for the 2014 Brazil World Cup by beating Guatemala on Tuesday, they will do so at Livestrong Stadium in Kansas City, Kansas.

Armstrong is set to appear at a Livestrong gala next weekend in Austin, Texas, together with a Livestrong cycling event where the aim is to have 4,000 cyclists participate and raise $2 million.

Armstrong, who won his Tour de France races after surviving testicular cancer, has been a role model to inspire other cancer conquerors over the years, encourage those who fight the condition to this day and give families hope.

The Austin American-Statesman newspaper hailed Armstrong as a "person to be deeply admired" for his cancer-fighting efforts.

"The trickier legacy is the one that goes beyond cycling. If admirable work turns out to be built on a lie, is the lie then OK, the cheating excusable?" it added in an editorial.

Armstrong's inspirational role has taken prominence to an American sporting public weary from doping revelations from numerous athletics stars and unproven accusations against baseball icons such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

The American-Statesman dismissed as an "absurd proposition" to pretend that Armstrong never won the Tour de France.

"It'll be an acute absurdity to those countless Americans who, inspired by Armstrong's wins, got off their couches and onto a bike," the newspaper added.

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