On the Derailing of Lance Armstrong

On a rainy May morning in 1996, I woke up early and drove to nearby Bristol, Virginia, to watch the start of a stage in a conspicuously branded professional bicycle race called the Tour DuPont. For a young East Tennessee amateur cyclist, this was about as close to the red carpet as I had ever been. There were a handful of famous European pros on hand, but I really wanted to get a glimpse of America’s next great hope—a scrappy young Texan named Lance Armstrong.

I had followed his career with interest since the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and along with other Americans, was looking for a new cycling hero to follow the retirement of Greg LeMond. At the starting line, Armstrong coasted by and gave me a brief nod before riding out to an overall victory in the race. Five months later, he would be diagnosed with testicular cancer.

Outside the cycling world, Armstrong was still relatively unknown, so the news only merited a brief blurb in the sports section. I remember praying for him, but I had no expectation of ever hearing much about him again. But Armstrong did come back—not as a mere survivor, but a conqueror.

Too Perfect

Throughout his (now vacated) victories in seven Tours de France, it seemed as if he were made to ride a bicycle. But if cycling was in his blood, his veins also flowed with banned substances. As his confession to Oprah Winfrey this week has shown—after years of testimony, lawsuits, and lost faith—there was more to the story than the narrative Armstrong presented. The greatest comeback story in all of sport sucked in media, sponsors, and cancer patients looking for a hero. It was the perfect story—too perfect.

Fraud torments a soul, even when the soul isn’t aware of the torment. Biblical examples abound. Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) seemed to have no clue that their guilt was catching up to them before it did with abrupt finality. Zacchaeus (Luke 19) had to be pulled from a tree by Jesus to be confronted and come clean about his fraud. When Oprah asked Lance if it felt wrong, he said “No. That’s scary.” Scary indeed.

Ruminating about God in his 2000 memoir, It’s Not about the Bike, Armstrong wrote, “At the end of the day, if there was indeed some Body or presence standing there to judge me, I hoped I would be judged on whether I had lived a true life, not on whether I believed in a certain book, or whether I’d been baptized” (117).

Now Armstrong is being judged on that very thing—whether or not he has lived a true life. He has been found failing. For years, Lance Armstrong powered both his bikes and his blood with a lie and punished others to protect the fraud. He’ll bear the burden of his actions for a long time. This time, I pray for Lance that he does indeed at last find power in the blood and be free from his burden.

  • http://www.joshburnett.org Josh Burnett

    Wow, that’s a powerful quote from Lance’s book! Really liked how you started by using “cycling in his blood” and ended with hoping he finds “power in the blood.”

    I keep wondering why Armstrong did last night’s interview. Any thoughts?

  • http://www.deliniation.com Delina

    I’m struck by how hollow and self-serving these confessions sound and feel apart from the Gospel.

    This is what I want to know from Lance Armstrong. If you didn’t think what you were doing was wrong before, why do you think that what you did was wrong today? And what changed your mind? (All the conventional moralism was and is available to him before) What flipped his switch? Has his switch been flipped or is this just another way of controlling the narrative (as he put it).

    I haven’t figured out if he’s sorry he did it or if he is just for the fallout. Would he do it again if he could guarantee not getting found out?

  • revbmac

    As a fan of pro cycling this is a saddening but all too familiar story. My prayer is that God is using the house of cards that is now crashing down on him now to make Armstrong into someone who is truly “poor in spirit” and through that lead him to Christ. Isn’t is interesting how he mentioned that he was happier today than he had been in years?

    Delina, do you really think you are able to or are obligated to figure out is he’s truly sorry? Let me suggest that we just pray for him and let God sort out the rest.

    • http://www.deliniation.com Delina

      I am not able to or obligated to determine his sincerity. That is what I’d like to know, from him, where his head is. It doesn’t actually affect me one bit, but since I’m interested in the very public story, then it’s a piece of the puzzle that is missing.

  • http://tylerceason.blogspot.com/ Tyler Eason

    One thing is certain, this situation shows our desperate need for God’s grace. Not a part of us is left untouched by sin. We all need grace.

  • http://lifeandbuilding.com kyle

    I’m reminded of two things. First, repentance is a gift (Acts 5:21). Second, repentance is to be sorrowful according to God (2 Corinthians 7:9-10). Repentance is not just to have a turn for the better, but to turn to God. Maybe that’s partly why the whole thing feels so flaky. Lord, grant Lance Armstrong the gift of repentance unto salvation.

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  • Cyndi

    I had a nagging thought in the back of my mind as I read this, as if I had read this story before. I finally realized that Lance Armstrong sounds just like Pete Rose. No matter how high the mountain of evidence grew, Pete Rose continued to proclaim his innocence. His only defense was to recite his incredible accomplishments on the field. Both of these men seem to believe that there are no objective standards for right and wrong, but rather just scales where their deeds good and bad are weighed. Unless I’ve missed it, I don’t think Pete Rose has ever truly repented and I see the same “tormented” soul that you have described in Lance Armstrong. Incredibly sad.

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  • http://minuteswithmartha.bloggerposts.com martha ellis

    Several years ago, I guess after he said that HE had conquered cancer and he alone had come back, and he himself had done everything to be the top man. He really dared anyone to say that God or man helped him get where he was. I saw a man on the way to defeat. A person who thinks he can make it all on his own is a man that God cannot use. Think of Saul. He had every credential needed to be a great Jew, and he believed that he had gotten there by his zeal and wisdom. It was not until he totally humbled himself that he was usable! Lance will have to hit rock bottom before can be saved. You know, Saul was the best killer of the Christians and Armstrong won 14 top races. All of it is wood, hay, and stubble. He feels no shame. Before there is help. there has to be shame.

    • Mark G

      I saw this or similar interviews where Lance talks as if he beat cancer by his own efforts. Also, he told everyone he was the greatest TdF racer because he worked harder than everyone else. He worked harder at doping and manipulation. Lance is an arch manipulator and he continues to try to control the story even in his confessions.

      Like Brit Hume said about Tiger Woods, what Lance needs is an encounter with Christ and the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. His current troubles with authorities, the public and the press are only a small taste of ultimate judgement. They will either condemn him or santify him.

  • J Kent

    I think it is foolish to be a fan of sports and I also think it is foolish to judge Lance. I am not a fan and do not think much of professional athletes. Does any of this really matter? Let God deal with him, there are more important things than following an athlete or feeling bad because an athlete let you down. They are human and all have fallen short of the glory of God. Let me ask, do any of you commenting have anything hidden in your closet or heart? All we can do is pray that people see the light. He is not a muslim that wants to kill everyone that does not agree with him. He will suffer from his bad choices as the rest of us do so let him be.

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  • Stephen
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