|Newsweek's Jaded Starr||spyderman|
Aug 5, 2002 12:04 AM
|Is Lance Armstrong Superman? by Mark Starr
Lance Armstrong just won an incredible fourth straight Tour de France. He’s always tested clean for drugs, but the sport’s bad reputation will forever leave doubts
NEWSWEEK WEB EXCLUSIVE
Aug. 1 — It is the very small rituals of life that often define friendships. So every year now, on a Sunday afternoon late in July, my pal Dave calls and poses the same question: Is not Lance Armstrong worthy of being Sportsman of the Year?
IT IS NOT as if this is a question that I or NEWSWEEK need to confront in any formal sense. But Dave is a cycling enthusiast, and he’s just looking for a little affirmation. He is forever appalled at how Armstrong’s Tour de France triumphs are short-changed in the annual assessments of American sporting glory. I, too, have disappointed him. In response to his question the past three years, I have hemmed and hawed and summoned up Tiger or Shaq or Ray Lewis or Barry Bonds. But this year I couldn’t resist, at least not my friend’s passion and the hidden plea in his question. Yes, I said, in surrender. Absolutely! Four Tours de Force in a row. Lance is in a class by himself. (And when he wins next year, he will be in a historical class with Miguel Indurain as the only consecutive five-time winners in history.)
But even as I said it, I suspected that come December, when these judgments are rendered, Lance will not be the man. And I confess that, despite what I professed to my friend, I, too, wonder if Lance is worthy of that honor. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the Tour’s place in the sporting world. I am no provincial, and I recognize that the Tour ranks only behind the Olympics and World Cup among international competitions. Of all the major sporting events, it is certainly the toughest, 2,000 miles-plus of relentless agony. I’ve driven that distance in France and arrived far more exhausted than Armstrong appeared Sunday as he pedaled the final stretch on the Champs Elysees. (Still, it is remarkable how victory by an American riding for the U.S. Postal Service team can seem so alien.)
Nor do I want to be lumped with the French, whose antipathy to and resentment of Armstrong is borne largely of base anti-Americanism. The French cling to the notion that they are superior to Americans in so many things—cooking, winemaking, love, soccer and cycling—when about all they remain superior at these days is smoking. Granted, Armstrong is not the most accessible and engaging fellow, not a charmer like Greg LeMond before him. Lance was prickly long before he battled cancer. And while his remarkable recovery has made him an inspiration as well as formidable warrior in the campaign against cancer, it has not made him warm and cuddly.
So if it isn’t the event and it isn’t the guy’s personality, what exactly is my problem? It’s the specter of drugs that hovers over his sport. That hardly makes cycling unique. Baseball’s glorious tradition is being sacrificed on the altar of steroids. And somehow we’re supposed to believe that all those 240-pound NFL lineman of yesteryear turned into 320-pounders by simply pumping iron. Women’s tennis is about to implement more rigorous testing procedures as its players’ shoulders increasingly resemble those of stevedores. Track, swimming, cross-country skiing, weightlifting—so many of the sports in the Olympic family are believed to be massive cheatfests by most every reporter who covers them. I remember, at my first Summer Olympics in Barcelona, the unsettling feeling of watching three shot-putters on the medal podium, all of whom had been previously banned from their sport for drug use.
Even by those standards, cycling has been rife with abuse. Even as Armstrong was still celebrating, French author