Plenty of athletes have used performance-enhancing drugs. Baseball’s steroids scandal seriously marred the reputation of players like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa. Competitive runner Marion Jones had to forfeit her Olympic medals due to her PED use. Yet the single greatest example of PED abuse in pro sports involves disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong.
After denying allegations for many years, Armstrong finally admitted to using banned substances to improve his performance. These days, according to his friends, he is a different man. Let’s look at Armstrong’s PED scandal and how his responses have changed over the years.
The greatest scandal in cycling history
For many years, Armstrong was seen as one of cycling’s greatest success stories. The promising young cyclist saw his early career derailed by testicular cancer in 1996. Armstrong fought back and against the odds overcame the cancer.
Even more miraculously, he returned to the world of competitive cycling and won the Tour de France seven straight times from 1999 to 2005, according to History.com, a nearly unthinkable display of dominance. For most of that stretch, however, Armstrong was dogged by rumors of PED usage.
The cycling star denied or got around most of the allegations. But in 2009 things came to a head when an official anti-doping organization opened an investigation into Armstrong. After three years of digging, the committee found Armstrong guilty of PED use and stripped him of his Tour de France titles.
Lance Armstrong’s admission of guilt
Not until January 2013 did Armstrong finally fess up to his doping. He did so in one of the most high profile ways possible: in an on-air interview with television host Oprah Winfrey. Winfrey asked Armstrong all of the tough questions, and he answered with candor, admitting that he would not have been able to win any of his titles without cheating.
When asked by Winfrey why he was only now admitting to his cheating after years of denials, Armstrong responded, according to ESPN: “That is the best question. It’s the most logical question. … I don’t know that I have a great answer. I will start my answer by saying that this is too late. It’s too late for probably most people, and that’s my fault. I viewed this situation as one big lie that I repeated a lot of times, and as you said, it wasn’t as if I just said no and I moved off it.”
However, Armstrong remained adamant that his doping had ended in 2005, albeit after winning all seven of his Tours de France. Furthermore, he denied having attempted to coerce his teammates to dope. He also flatly rejected the suggestion that he had bribed regulatory bodies to cover up evidence of his cheating.
More recent changes in Armstrong’s outlook
Armstrong’s fall from grace generated massive amounts of backlash from fans and media members. His reputation as a sports hero had been all but destroyed. For most people, the blow would have been absolutely crushing. And it likely was for Armstrong too — at least for a while. Yet at a certain point, he had to do the best he could to move on with his life.
According to those close around him, Armstrong’s personality underwent a real shift following the doping scandal. He had always been a hypercompetitive and tightly wound individual. But now he showed far more patients and consideration than ever before. According to a 2017 article in Outside magazine, that change stemmed from Armstrong’s “conviction that his disgrace and banishment were necessary and important events in his life.”
In that article, Armstrong’s fiancé stated that “back in the day he had never heard ‘no’ from anybody in twenty years.” But since the scandal—an admittedly humungous “no”—Armstrong has become far more adept at listening to those around him. Hopefully that change will bring him a lasting measure of peace, since his reputation in the sports world will never be the same.