Nike's chance with Lance: Sporting giant and Livestrong sponsor
standing behind shamed Armstrong
after he was stripped of seven Tour de France wins
Lance Armstrong was stripped of his record seven Tour de France
wins and handed a lifetime ban by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) on
Friday but remained defiant as ever, as supporters rallied around the American cyclist.
The debate over Armstrong's guilt will now rage, with some heavy-hitters like long-time sponsor
Nike, the world's biggest sportswear maker, lining up alongside the disgraced cyclist, while anti-doping
crusaders proudly claim victory.
Since 2004, Nike has helped Livestrong, Armstrong's organization to
help cancer survivors, raise over $100 million
for cancer research and created the Livestrong yellow wristbands
that became a global phenomenon with over 84 million bands distributed.
Lance has stated his innocence and has been unwavering on this position.
Nike plans to continue to support Lance and the Lance Armstrong Foundation, a foundation
that Lance created to serve cancer survivors,' Nike said in a prepared statement.
Armstrong, 40, has been one of the most successful and controversial cyclists of all time, returning to
the sport after beating cancer to win the Tour de France seven straight times, from 1999 to 2005.
Livestrong takes its inspiration from his achievements and recovery
from testicular cancer that also made him a hero to many and boosted the sport's popularity in the United States.
But the cyclist also made many enemies throughout his career, with several
of his former teammates and colleagues allegedly ready to testify he doped.
Weary from years of denial, legal battles, skirmishes with former-team mates and
anti-doping chiefs, it is a fight Armstrong says he no longer has the stomach for.
'Today I will turn the page,' Armstrong said. 'I will no longer address this issue regardless of the circumstances.'
Armstrong may have turned the page but the story is far from over.
One of the sporting world's most polarizing figures, Armstrong remains
a hero to millions of cancer survivors for beating the disease and coming
back to win the Tour de France a record seven times. To others, he is a drug cheat and fraud.
Former teammate and deposed Tour de France winner Floyd Landis
accused Armstrong in 2010 of using performance-enhancing drugs and teaching others how to avoid being caught.
But Armstrong also has his loyalists, outside and inside the sport, such as
Jim Ochowicz, director of the BMC cycling team and a long-time friend who
helped him when he was an amateur rider and young professional.
'As a friend of Lance's, I support his decision to call it an end,' said Ochowicz.
'He has done so much for our sport over the years, and I am sad at what has transpired.
'I love him. I know he still has a big fight ahead of him and his battle of
trying to find a cure for cancer and help survivors and carry on with the Lance Armstrong foundation.
'I think he has earned every victory he's had,' he said.
The USADA, however, believes it has enough compelling
evidence to prove Armstrong did not claim his victories fairly.
A quasi-governmental agency created by the U.S. Congress in 2000, the USADA
formally charged Armstrong in June with doping and taking part in a conspiracy with
members of his championship teams.
The agency said in a letter to Armstrong that it has blood samples
from 2009 and 2010 that are 'fully consistent' with doping.
Michael McCann, an expert in sports law at Vermont Law School, said that
Armstrong's decision to not contest the USADA charges in arbitration
might have been the cyclist's best option in the face of mounting circumstantial evidence.
'This gives his supporters reason to support him,' McCann told Reuters.
'Whereas if he had gone to arbitration and lost —which I think almost definitely would have happened - from
a public relations standpoint, that would have been much more harmful.'
In losing his titles, Armstrong joins Canadian Ben Johnson and
American Marion Jones as the highest-profile athletes to lose championships as a result of doping sanctions.
Johnson was stripped of the 1988 Seoul Olympics 100 meters title after testing
positive for a steroid, while Jones lost her 2000 Sydney Olympics 100, 200 and 4x400 meters
relay gold medals when she confessed she had been taking drugs at the time.
'I'm sick of this,' Armstrong said in 2005.
'Sitting here today, dealing with all this stuff again, knowing if I were to
go back, there's no way I could get a fair shake - -on the roadside, in doping control, or the labs.'
But three years later, Armstrong was 36 and itching to ride again.
He came back to finish third in the 2009 Tour de France.
Armstrong raced in the Tour again in 2010, under the cloud of the federal
criminal investigation. Early last year, he quit the sport for good, but made a
brief return as a triathlete until the USADA investigation shut him down.
During his sworn testimony in the dispute over the $5 million bonus, Armstrong
said he wouldn't take performance enhancing drugs because he had too much to lose.
'(The) faith of all the cancer survivors around the world. Everything I do off the bike
would go away, too,' Armstrong said then.
'And don't think for a second I don't understand that.
It's not about money for me. Everything.
It's also about the faith that people have put in me over the years. So all of that would be erased.'
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