Lance Armstrong, for better or worse, is one of the most controversial figures in sports history. He’s seen the highest highs in his sport and the lowest lows. While he’s no doubt an incredible athlete, he also broke the rules in quite a flagrant and unethical way.
Armstrong’s story is well known. But what may not be as well known is the sad story of his childhood and how that may have shaped his later years.
Lance Armstrong’s difficult childhood
Any athlete as accomplished as Armstrong would no doubt have a strict training regimen, PED usage or not. But Armstrong also claimed to endure something in childhood no one should have to endure at the hands of a brutal taskmaster.
USA Today reported that Armstrong made comments in his 30 for 30 documentary titled Lance that when he was young, his stepfather “beat him like an (expletive) animal.” Armstrong’s stepfather saw it much differently. According to him, he was hard on Armstrong as a way to motivate him.
“Lance would not be the champion he is today without me, because I drove him…I drove him like an animal. That’s the only thing I feel bad about. Did I make him too much `win at all costs’?”
Armstrong’s stepfather essentially admits to giving the future star what amounted to tough love but sounds very much like child abuse. It’s a remnant of a bygone era when it was socially acceptable to discipline children with physical brutality. It’s quite sad that Armstrong was forced to go through that as a defenseless child.
Reaching the top of the cycling mountain
According to Biography.com, Lance Armstrong had success as a cyclist in the early-to-mid ’90s, even qualifying for the Olympics in 1992 and 1996. In October of ’96, Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer.
Initially, he was given a 65-85% chance to live, but when cancer spread to his brain his chances dipped well below 50%. Armstrong underwent treatment and surgery to remove his brain tumor and was declared cancer-free in 1997.
From there, Armstrong made history. He signed a $200,000 a year deal with the U.S. Postal Service racing team, a significant drop from his old salary of $600,000 per year. After that, his dominant run began.
Armstrong won the Tour de France every year from 1999-2005 for seven consecutive victories. He’d retire from racing only to return to the Tour de France in 2008 and 2010. He didn’t win either and retired in 2011.
When Lance Armstrong’s house of cards came crashing down
Armstrong had become an inspirational figure to millions throughout the world. His story of beating the odds to survive cancer to become a multiple Tour champion almost seemed too good to be true. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what it was.
First, Irish sportswriter David Walsh wrote an article that connected Armstrong to Dr. Michele Ferrari, an Italian doctor who was suspected of giving PEDs to cyclists. He’d accuse Armstrong of PED use in his 2004 book titled LA Confidential.
In 2010, Armstrong’s U.S. Postal teammate Floyd Landis admitted to using PEDs after being stripped of his 2006 title. Following Landis’s confession, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency investigated and charged Armstrong.
Armstrong denied the claims but stopped his fight against the USADA. In August 2012 he was banned from cycling for life. The USADA’s case against Armstrong included testimony from 26 people.
In January 2013, Armstrong finally admitted to wrongdoing in a televised interview with Oprah Winfrey. Armstrong eventually settled out of court with the U.S. Postal Service for defrauding them.
Armstrong now freely admits to using PEDs, and the entire story is tragic. While it’s certainly no excuse for his actions, one wonders how his life might have changed had he not received such awful treatment as a child.