The sports world is one of intense competition. Just making it into a league like the NBA or NFL represents a huge victory. Those who want to become superstars face an even steeper slope. Invariably, certain athletes attempt to improve their odds through the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs. One of the most famous cases of cheating involved American competitive cyclist Lance Armstrong.
Let’s look at how his legacy was tarnished by his cheating and investigate how Armstrong stacks up against other famous cheaters.
Lance Armstrong’s cycling career
Armstrong’s pro cycling career began in 1992 when he joined the Motorola Cycling Team as a 21-year-old. His breakthrough victory came in 1993, when he won Norway’s World Road Race Championship. Armstrong also won one stage of the Tour de France that year, although he dropped out before finishing the race.
The Texan won a stage of the Tour de France in 1995 and finished the race for the first time. In 1996, he received a diagnosis of testicular cancer. Armstrong’s public battle endeared him to the hearts of American sports fans. He also established the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which raised significant amounts of money for cancer research and patient support.
Miraculously, Armstrong beat his cancer and in 1999 he won his first Tour de France at the age of 27, reports ESPN. He went on to capture the next six Tour de France titles in one of the most dominant streaks in cycling history. Armstrong retired for the first time in 2005, only to return in 2009 and place third in the Tour de France. He retired again in 2011.
Armstrong’s cheating scandal
Armstrong faced rumors of doping starting with his first Tour de France title in 1999. At the time, tests found that Armstrong had the corticosteroid triamcinolone in his system. However, he evaded punishment by providing authorities with a back-dated note from his doctor, which claimed the substance came from a skin cream.
Doping allegations continued to plague Armstrong in the coming years, although he managed to come out unscathed over and over. In 2009, his former teammate Floyd Landis accused him of doping. The U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) carried out subsequent investigations.
Armstrong continued to deny doping allegations, but in 2012, the USADA released its formal report on his activities. That document, as Business Insider details, accused Armstrong of perpetrating “the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen.” The agency formally stripped Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles. In a 2013 TV interview with Oprah Winfrey, he finally admitted to taking banned substances throughout his career.
Other noteworthy cheaters in sports history
Armstrong is widely considered the worst cheater in sports history –although that doesn’t mean he lacks plenty of competition. Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy was charged with betting on games he officiated in 2009 and received a 15-month prison sentence. A subsequent ESPN investigation made it clear that Donaghy had also likely fixed the games to his benefit.
Tonya Harding is another example of a still-notorious cheater. She was found guilty of hiring her ex-husband to attack her rival Nancy Kerrigan before the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championship. Most recently, the 2017 Houston Astros were found guilty of using video cameras to steal opponents’ pitch signs during their World Series Championship season.
Whether any of those scandals can compare to Armstrong’s is up for debate. What we know for certain is that Armstrong’s legacy will never recover from his extensive cheating.