It’s time to talk about Lance.
I’ve been trying to avoid talking too much about the whole Lance Armstrong shemozzle.
I’m not much of a cycling fan. Unlike so many others out there, I don’t really get any kicks out of staying up all night to watch the Tour de France. I’ll watch the Olympic marathon, but I don’t care so much for the cycling road race. It’s a sport, and I like sport in general, so I will catch updates and sometimes find myself half-watching races for quite a while, but I don’t get excited over it. I don’t even really know what a peloton is, to be honest, and I’m not sure who I should be looking out for in the Tour from one year to the next.
However, the revelations about Lance Armstrong have really hurt me. I don’t like cycling, but I have an immense amount of faith in sport.
I love how sport unites people. I admire the dedication and strength of those who compete, at any level, really. I enjoy the excitement of watching a match, and the water cooler talk about it in the days after the game.
Most of all, I respect the honesty of sport. It seems to me like one of those activities that falls under the umbrella of a good, honest day’s work.
So when one of sport’s greatest success stories is revealed as a cheat, my world order is shattered a little bit. Is that the problem, though? Is the problem simply that we idolise normal people to the point of destruction?
I’m not into hero worship. I think Lance Armstrong, through his Livestrong foundation, has done many amazing things for many, many people, and should not be criticised for that. But I don’t look up to him, nor any other athlete, as a hero.
Yet, so many people do. Once upon a time, athletes and sportsmen (for they were primarily men, back then) would go out on the field or the track and play hard, then retire to the change rooms and drink a beer, smoke a cigarette, and eat a sausage roll. Today’s stars, though, are more automaton than athlete, more machine than man.
We not only expect them to run harder, cycle further, and swim faster than ever before, but we expect them to do it whilst being model citizens who wouldn’t think of downing a beer or feasting on a burger, let alone sticking a needle in their arm to get the illegal advantage that would help them to win and therefore keep us, the armchair experts, happy.
And when an athlete slips up and is caught with a recreational (albiet illicit) substance in their system, we wonder how they could fall so far. We feel offended that they have let us down. Is the pressure that we put on athletes really just destroying the system?
I’m not advocating Armstrong’s behaviour. There is little doubt, now, that cycling is an incredibly dirty sport. At the same time, I’m not angry at him. I’m more angry at us for expecting so much from people who, essentially, work out and play sport for a living, partly just to entertain us.
My faith is a little destroyed, and my pride in people is a little dented, but what’s the solution? I doubt this will ever end, until perhaps one day organic athletes become obsolete, and are replaced with man-made cyborg sports stars, capable of growing ever better to keep us happier and more entertained.