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Mea dopa
The Armstrong saga enters a new stage

Date published: 1/28/2013

WE'RE NOW in the stage of the Tour de Armstrong during which the disgraced former bicycling champion tests his backpedaling skills. We may look askance at the sincerity of a confessor who perpetuated a lie for perhaps 15 years. But these are for many reasons circumstances worth mulling.

The story of Lance Armstrong's career is on its face nothing short of remarkable. In 1996, just as he was making a name for himself in bicycle racing circles, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer that had spread to his brain and lungs. Surgery and intense chemotherapy followed, and a year later he was declared cancer-free.

What followed was his extraordinary comeback in the world of competitive cycling, leading to a record seven consecutive victories in the Tour de France between 1999 and 2005. This would be by virtually any measure a superhuman achievement for anyone, let alone for a cancer survivor then-nearing his mid-30s.

But from even before his string of Tour victories began, Mr. Armstrong was dogged by rumors and allegations of doping--i.e., the use of banned performance-enhancing drugs. Even as the allegations became more specific and accusatory, they were met with the racer's repeated denials and claims that he had never had a positive result in hundreds of career drug tests.

But last summer, Mr. Armstrong's house of cards began to collapse. Based on a comprehensive report by the USADA (the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency) and the subsequent court rejection of Mr. Armstrong's suit to discredit the organization, he was stripped of his Tour de France victories and banned for life from any competition under USADA auspices. The report branded him as the mastermind of the most sophisticated doping scheme in sports history.

Mr. Armstrong's fall from grace might have seemed more precipitous had the air of suspicion not enveloped him for so long. Now he has chosen to come clean, but is he as "clean" as he claims? His plea for absolution appears rooted in self-preservation, not remorse. He's angling for reconsideration of his lifetime ban from competition, while hoping to improve his negotiating position in a possible $100 million judgment over sponsorship funding. Who's to say if Mr. Armstrong will ever find true redemption?

Though most may see Mr. Armstrong's contrition as too little too late, perhaps other figures who have betrayed fans' trust will follow his lead, come forward, stop the lies, seek forgiveness, and find solace. If so, they could once again help make athletics a model for our culture, rather than a sordid reflection of its worst aspects.