Throughout my life I have been an avid fan and follower of sport. Whilst my most revered sport is of course that ever divisive and controversial game that is football many other sports have been followed with hearty attention throughout my existence. Despite the obvious superstars of football I have always struggled to identify with the footballers as potential role models, heroes and idols. Apart from the mercurial talents and extraordinary psyche of the legendary Zinedine Zidane and for some reason the mazy dribbling and free style of play of former Manchester United and Everton winger Andrei Kanchelskis few footballers actually transcended the barrier into hero status in my mind.
It is the same for most ‘team’ sports; Martin Johnson and Jonny Wilkinson perhaps from Rugby and maybe Marcus Trescothick from Cricket but overall most of my sporting heroes and icons came from those individual sports. Obviously this was then a more naïve view on the world of sport as there is always a huge team effort behind any sporting victory but as a boy growing up I didn’t realise this. For me Valentino Rossi was one such hero who I revered so highly; it was his composure and self-belief that got to me. Never flustered, never beaten, never in doubt of his supreme ability.
Then there was Lance Armstrong. He got me into the world of cycling a sport of which compared to the everyman I would consider myself an enlightened enthusiast. When I got my 1984 Raleigh Scorpio, ‘borrowed’ from my mates garage, every time I sat on the bright white saddle with its electric yellow and thunder purple frame I pictured myself as Lance, filtering through traffic as if on a time trial or parading into Champs Elysees.
His story, his personality and ability spoke volumes to me; to conquer such adversity as he had to become the greatest sportsmen on the planet, possibly of all time was astonishing. I wouldn’t be lying if I said at times I lay in bed at night just wondering what it feels like to be Lance Armstrong. To be that superhuman, untouchable and I wished I could feel that way, if only for just a fleeting moment.
Now however I would most definitely not want to be in his shoes.
I won’t go into the damning evidence and the self-incrimination of Lance’s decision not to contest any charges brought against him by USADA as the story is well known. The 7 time winner of the Tour de France is no more; a mere asterix at the bottom of a Wikipedia saying *rewarded after Lance Armstrong was stripped of the Yellow jersey will be his micro footprint.
Deep down I can see the evidence and the actions are damning but until Lance himself comes out and admits his errors, his lies and his ultimate cheating I do not feel I can ever fully believe the allegations. Not out of denial but simply out of fear. I, like so many others was inspired through many things in life by what Lance Armstrong had achieved against all the odds, with no help from drugs, off his own back with nothing but raw self-belief, talent and determination as his illegal substances.
I fear if he is guilty that a lot of what I believed about sport is a lie, especially in cycling.
As I try to get behind Bradley Wiggins a hero in his own right who is so self-advocatory toward anti-doping and clean cycling. I feel I will always keep myself at a safe distance from now on, never willing to put my passion for the sport behind an inspirational figure ever again, no matter how adamant they are about doping or any other ill that should befall them. I have heard it all before now.
As the Paralympics rumbles on however you can find real hope in brave people who have overcome incredible things to become such sporting phenoms. The story of former Forumla 1 driver Alex Zanardi winning the H4 handcycling time trial gold at Brands Hatch 11 years after losing both his legs in a horrific crash makes you appreciate the real heroes in sport.
The Ayrton Senna’s and Marco Simoncelli’s of this world who pushed their bodies to the limits to entertain us, the adorning public, and of course for that innate thrill they must have felt deep within that continued to push them to take risks despite the obvious and eventually realistic tragedies that could occur.
These are now the heroes I and in fact we should try to remember when people like Armstrong seem to be found out for cheats; no matter how painful that may be to admit.
image: © bike