In the run up to the release of The Program -which will probably be out by the time this is done- in which Ben Foster plays once highly coveted professional cyclist Lance Armstrong, it’s only fitting to open up the debate on how society defines SUCCESS, and the extent to which we may go to pursue it. Lance Armstrong became the ultimate symbol of success; with the expanse of sponsorships that fuelled an illustrious cycling career he proceeded to founder his own cancer charity, Livestrong. Promoting the vision of Livestrong as an ambassador to the masses DESPITE having cancer himself and still somehow managing to conquer his competition, Armstrong suddenly became heavily scrutinised by the media that speculated the extent of his health to be of a more sinister nature.
What most of us will not be able to fathom is the fact that athletes pave the path of their careers through PERFORMANCE not PARTICIPATION. So much so that regularly relying on talent alone to win would be somewhat foolish. To then generalise the extent to which this is apparent would probably be even more so, although in hindsight we don’t see any instance of competitive sport remaining static in the way that records are broken and talent reoccurs. Each year the influx of bigger, faster, stronger athletes surge the competition and test the tenacity of those hardwired to WIN, nothing else. This innate determination would coincide with doing “WHATEVER IT TAKES” in order to optimise ones potential and protect what they deem, rightfully theirs.
People are naive to think that even elite athletes within tested organisations won’t be taking every measure possible to optimise their performance, but even more naive to think that applying themselves to the same conditions would grant them just as much success. No steroid or performance enhancing substance could be solely responsible for ones triumph, despite such media incrimination emphasising the CHEAT or SCANDAL. No, To endeavour this would be result of somewhat intangible factors and an immense amount of raw talent, just to get you in the starting lineup.
With the heavy speculation of illicit drug use during the the most prestigious event on the cycling calendar- The Tour De France; Armstrong took it on himself to organise the ‘program’ in which athletes on his ‘team’ could carry out extreme measures to continue blood doping without being detected. This involved arranged blood transfusions in order to bypass the array of medical screening and to mask the frequent use of various performance enhancing drugs, more specifically IPO. While the countless allegations stacked up against Armstrong, it seemed that the immense support from fans in conjunction with a highly elaborate fabrication of truth carried the false BELIEF in Lance to new heights. This is the belief of defying the odds, chasing your dreams and silencing the naysayer, brutally, via email and telephone.
However, it’s not the malcontent of Lance Armstrong that I want to discuss, although it may be entertaining. I find much more value in identifying how society can scorn individuals that seem to have been CAUGHT OUT when in reality they are mere victims of their own ambition. Now I’m not saying that every top athlete is on drugs, nor am I condoning any such action’ to stay “competitive” but it seems the once grey area of what may define a CHEAT has become much more lucid in nature due to an overwhelming media.
People won’t understand the instance of lying in order protect an athletes untainted career despite the fact that they have an immense responsibility to younger generations that they inspire and are idolised by. What would discrediting the accomplishments of such epitomised figures do to young athletes and more importantly what would it encourage them? The steroid speculation overarching huge pinnacles of success such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Dwayne Johnson has clearly had enough impact on the impressionable audience, making it just as destructive as the TRUTH.
Seeing a recent online article with the title ‘teens heart explodes from steroids after wanting to look like The Rock” struck me hard at not only the naïveté of guys failing to embrace what they have been given and wanting to BE someone else but the extent to which they would go to do so. Using the DRUG card for anyone that has bettered themselves to a significant degree is not only fundamentally ignorant but also provides a vivid reflection of ones own discontent, temporarily satisfied by excuses and frequent use of the BAD GENETICS card.
So like Arnold and Sly and Dwayne and most definitely Armstrong – who won the genetic lottery instilling the foundations of how they can potentially look- they have all successfully fulfilled the limits of their physical prowess so much so that it has resulted in highly coveted careers in various fields of expertise. Every sporting event will feature specialists of their craft, in knowledge and sheer dedication to their own aspirations and to the sport. These individuals will follow even stricter routines and adopt a plethora of approaches to both training and nutrition that most deem to be extreme, superseding the budding enthusiast that may even attempt to close the gap by drastic means. Lance Armstrong lied on the world stage to protect his reputation, one not built overnight.
The discovery of his dishonesty resulted in being stripped of his seven consecutive Tour De France titles, tarnishing his credibility with Livestrong and labelling him the biggest fraud? of our time. While I completely agree with the controls that are in practice to eradicate drug use within sport, I protest the label of Armstrong being considered a FRAUD. No drug is powerful enough to instil a reassuring hope within thousands of people; defying the odds of cancer chasing their dreams and silencing the naysayers that oppose their journey. If this was a drug and it helped people, would it be illegal, would it be unpatriotic? It can be said that Lance Armstrong asserted himself as THE driving force of competitive cycling, recognised by the world media and adored by the people for epitomising the American dream, but to what end? a symbol is by no means a pure, finite depiction of truth, but a vision of something possible.
The irony of Marvel illustrating the divine patriotism of Captain America; a military weapon, unifying humanity against evil, a spectacle of hope and courage. Would a punier Steve Rodgers ever have become his alter ego without being exposed to performance enhancing drugs and to people aware of his secret, is he still considered a superhero?