On the floor of my closet is a pair of the finest running shoes in the world. They are three shades of bright blue, made of different fabrics, intricate stitching and the very finest of materials. They are equipped with a full air-sole in the style of Nike’s best-selling AirMax model, but these are extra special. They are custom fitted and even have bright yellow tips on the blue laces to match the discreet yellow “LiveStrong” emblem on each shoe’s tongue.
Again, they are the finest in the world, having been made in something like three different continents before the final touches were done by hand in Vietnam, but suddenly the shoes have lost their luster. They are Lance Armstrong commemoratives – made as a smart tribute to the man who became the greatest cyclist and cancer-fighting humanitarian of our lifetime.
Today the shoes are still spectacular, in my mind the best ever, but Lance Armstrong is no longer viable. In what we are promised will be a “forthcoming” admission of guilt, Lance will be portrayed as a self-admitted liar and a despicable cheat over the next two nights. In a Hollywood-style confession that promises to be almost as sick as the decade of deceit and deception our former hero foisted on the world’s ever-gullible public, Armstrong has indicated he will finally tell the truth.
Armstrong will be interviewed both tonight and Friday by Oprah Winfrey, an equally-thirsty voice on her syndicated OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) channel at 9 p.m. and the biggest question will be that posed to every viewer - if Lance Armstrong lied over blood-doping, illegal drugs, and cheating while winning a record seven Tour de France titles, how are you going to believe anything that the publicity-starved 41-year-old ego maniac might tell Oprah? Who is to really know?
We all remember when he suffered testicular cancer in 1996– and we gobbled up whole armfuls of the “Livestrong” rubber bracelets – but when he started that unprecedented march to those Tour de France titles from 1999 to 2005, it was almost too good to be true. He taught us about determination and rising above the odds. He made us appreciate cycling as one of the world’s greatest sports and his wholesome image generates hundreds of millions in very worthy donations for his cancer foundation.
But soon there were growing signs it was all a sham. Armstrong fought his accusers in a vicious way. He sued, he bullied, he ranted – all in a way where had he been Pinocchio he would have had no face to lose. As the noose tightened, he should have known the truth will always come out at the end but he fought until, at long last, he bitterly realized the real truth – that he had hung himself on his very own coil of rope.
So the next two nights of revelation – redemption is still too big a gamble here – is being viewed by cynics as a public-relations spin faster than the costliest graphite wheel and, no matter whether he can twist a lifetime ban into an eight-year sentence, our most glimmering star of just 10 years ago will be remembered for all time as a loathsome cheat who broke the very rules in sport he once so dutifully espoused.
In the past 24 months he has lost heavily. His lucrative Nike contract has not just been stripped away, his name on buildings and all memorabilia have been secreted away; believe this, the shoe giant was taken in just like the public. The honorary degrees, those seven yellow jerseys, and the international accolades have all been vacated.
The fraud that Lance Armstrong now represents is hideous, but far more taxing is the betrayed faith of the thousands of fellow cancer patients who pledged they would “Live Strong,” the innocent French children who stood by country roadways to wildly cheer the American on, and a grand sport that is now as devastated by repeated scandal as its one-time star.
Sure, he raised millions for cancer and was valiant in increasing awareness towards the disease, but he will now and forever be known as “Lance the Liar,” which is the saddest and most brutal epitaph imaginable for he who was once named King seven different times on the Champs-Elysees. No matter what Oprah might say and no matter how many sad violins might play, Lance Armstrong will now admit that his life’s crowning moment came only when he broke the world’s heart.
The shoes on the floor of my closet are still the best running shoes in the world. They are stunning with their high technology, their brilliance of design and their feel when you move. But they no longer have that luster, much like the truth itself after it has been bitterly and unfairly lost.