This weekend on “60 Minutes,” competitive cyclist Tyler Hamilton will claim that he saw legendary champion Lance Armstrong use banned performance enhancing substances during his epic career.
Armstrong has never publicly failed a test, but his remarkable run has been riddled with accusations of cheating, doping and substances.
The question at hand is: will this be the accusation that sticks?
Hamilton is no slouch of a cyclist in his own right, with a 2004 Olympic gold medal to his name. And he’s retired, so he would seemingly have little incentive to lie. [CLARIFICATION: Hamilton is currently serving an eight year ban from cycling due to a positive test for a banned anti-depressant in 2009. He decided to retire after a previous positive drug test.]
Is there any athlete with a more divided image than Lance Armstrong?
He made cycling cool. His story of defeating THREE cancers to become the greatest in the world is beyond inspirational. His LIVESTRONG organization is one of the most visible non-profits in the entire world.
But the specter of doping has hung over his achievements. His personal life has become tabloid fodder. He was seen as villain in his break-up with singer Sheryl Crow.
Is Lance Armstrong the American Hero or the American Nightmare?
I need to reiterate that he has never failed a test, and I’m sure every organization in the world would love to catch him red-handed (or whatever you say when you catch a performance-enhancer).
But are we, as a nation, proud of his accomplishments? Or are we hesitant to celebrate something that we so desperately wish is real, but have a sinking suspicion is anything but?
How do we reconcile this duality?
If we are waiting for someone else to sort it out for us, it will only continue to devolve into the mess Major League Baseball is currently dealing with. The stars of an entire era are being wiped out because of performance enhancing drugs. Numerous record holders–prestigious record holders–are being erased, sort of. You can’t erase records without retroactively replaying every game. It’s just “easier” to try to forget Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens and others. (Jose Canseco, for what it’s worth, has made it impossible to forget him.)
So baseball’s a mess. And cycling is now at that crossroads.
Will cycling finally be forced to deal with their greatest name and biggest albatross? Or will the sport try to move us on, like cops surrounding an auto accident? “Nothing to see here.”
If that’s the case, truer words have never been spoken.