From Sea to Sea

September 1, 2012 - Raymond J. de Souza

Lance Armstrong: Win & Lose

After Lance Armstrong announced that he would no longer contest the doping accusations made against him, the general reaction was that he may have cheated in cycling but that his other work was so outstanding it rendered his use of performance-enhancing drugs very much secondary. I remain unconvinced.

I am sympathetic to Armstrong's claim that "enough is enough" and that he no longer wishes to battle the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). Even the court judgment that dismissed Armstrong's case against the USADA's jurisdiction characterized the agency's pursuit of Armstrong as troubling on due process grounds. And with the USADA riding shotgun alongside the FBI, it was clear enough that the prosecutorial abuse of power that America employs daily against the poor and the rich was about to be unleashed on Armstrong. In declining to become another Barry Bonds, Martha Stewart, Ted Stevens, Scooter Libby or Conrad Black, I thought Armstrong made an eminently defensible decision.

Armstrong's utter singularity made him a great inspiration, even if he would be hard to follow as a model. Here is an athlete who—to his own surprise—became better after, and in some important respects because of, his cancer. The early Armstrong was a powerful sprinter who was comparatively weak in the mountains. He returned after the cancer to dominate the steep climbs that separate the winners from the losers in the Tour de France. As a young cyclist, Armstrong had been told by five-time Tour winner Eddy Merckx that he needed to lose weight—the pre-cancer Armstrong was built like a muscular linebacker—in order to win the climbs. The cancer spared Armstrong's preternatural lung capacity and his piston-like thighs, but took 15 pounds of muscle off his upper body—a combination that made him unbeatable in the mountains.

I read Armstrong's books and concluded that he did use a performance-enhancing drug—a very unusual one called cancer treatment. Armstrong wrote that the treatment effectively reshaped his body. That freakish result, combined with his admirable discipline and fierce competitive spirit, was enough for me to believe that Armstrong was clean.

Prior to Armstrong, I might have thought that a peloton was a type of cancer, so little did I know about cycling. For me, like so many others, it was the inspiring story of a young man who roared back from testicular cancer to become a great cycling champion who drew us to a sport that is rather too complicated and too prolonged to follow easily on television.

Over the years, the view that Armstrong was clean became less plausible. For to believe he was clean would mean an even more implausible scenario, namely that while everybody else was dirty, he still beat them. As year after year revealed that every Tour winner was doping, it was harder to believe that Armstrong was the only one who wasn't. And the accusations multiplied. While Armstrong's protestation that "enough is enough" is understandable, it is not incompatible with the expectation that he was, this time, going to lose. He had finally been caught.

So Lance Armstrong is another crooked racer in a sport as crooked as a bike frame after a peloton crash. What's the big deal? After all, he is such an outstanding role model—the cancer survivor who inspires others—that surely a little blood doping here and there does not matter. . . . . . .

Pius XII at Yad Vashem

The Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem, Israel's national Holocaust memorial, re-opened in 2005, is a sombre and instructive presentation of the Shoah, to use the Hebrew word. I lead pilgrimages to Israel every year and always go to Yad Vashem, where it is impossible not to be moved by the drama of good and evil in the history of our time.

Pope Pius XII is treated at Yad Vashem, which itself is a bit unusual. The museum largely focuses on the execution of the Shoah itself, and the experience and testimony of the victims and survivors. It is not a museum of Second World War military strategy or for that matter an exploration of anti-Semitism. There is no Churchill plaque or one for Stalin or Franklin D. Roosevelt. Yet there is a (small) plaque dedicated to Pope Pius XII. The caption used to read as follows: . . . . . . .

The full text of this article is available only in Convivium's hard-copy print issue, Volume 1, No. 4.
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In the Current Issue

  1. September 2012: Volume 1, No. 4
    Comment Magazine - Volume 1, No. 4 In this issue of Convivium, Father Raymond J. de Souza unmasks Lance Armstrong and the cult of smiley-face nihilism. Douglas Farrow details why Canadians must ask the God questi...

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