In a sport filled with cyclists consuming performance-enhancing drugs, Lance Armstrong soared to the top. In his record seven wins in the Tour de France, he became a ferocious mountain rider. And to hear Armstrong tell Oprah Winfrey on national television last week, he didn’t think he was cheating. He looked up the word in the dictionary. He didn’t see himself gaining an unfair advantage on his competitors.
Which gets to one of the unexplored areas of the interview: How exactly did Armstrong do it? Was he simply a better doper than the rest? Or was it his natural physical prowess providing the edge?
Whatever the case, viewers caught a glimpse of just how competitive Armstrong is. That spirit flared over the years in the vehemence of his denials, the way he would ravage accusers such as Emma O’Reilly, a former team masseuse, or his former teammate, Frankie Andreu, and Andreu’s wife, Betsy. They were called crazy, or a whore, or an alcoholic.
In the end, they were right. This is the most dismaying aspect of Armstrong saga. He may be correct about the level playing field. It may make him feel better about the corruption of the sport. What lingers most conspicuously is the ferocity of his response to accusations, the slew of lawsuits, the collecting of millions of dollars, the destructive path he cut through lives.
And his real punishment? The many courtroom battles ahead, as those he bested in legal fights come seeking hefty payment.