Herald-Sun guest columnist
What would you think of a person who is worth, according to Forbes Magazine, an estimated $125 million and who achieved this super-rich status through sheer fraud, with a huge dollop of chutzpah thrown in; who has been shown by new overwhelming evidence to be a pathological liar, and in light of this evidence, whose public behavior over the years can be described as “near-sociopathic,” as an ESPN writer termed it; who has abused and discarded many people in his life, including the mother of three of his five children, his only wife and a person important in helping him recover his health for his "big sports comeback"; and finally who, to get the press off his back, has used countless fight-cancer advocates the last decade as a human PR shield, over and over reassuring them that he was a clean and virtuous champion, worthy of inspiration – his advocacy being what his supporters say absolves him of all the aforementioned sins, when in fact this might be, because of the gross deception at its core, his greatest sin (prompting some to now call his LiveStrong Foundation, purveyor of the ubiquitous yellow bracelets, “LieStrong”)? My followup question: Is there a hot enough region of Hades for the likes of Lance Armstrong?
Some have said that William Shakespeare, in addition to being our greatest writer, was also the greatest psychologist, the best student of human nature. I must say, he helped me figure out Lance Armstrong. With Armstrong’s stream of angry denials of doping over the years as well as denouncing and smearing his critics, which included teammates who helped him win, I got to thinking many years ago there was something too strident, too harsh in Armstrong’s comments. They brought to mind Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and the line in the play about how “protesting too loudly” can betray guilt.
Another person who helped me see the light is the best American cyclist ever: three-time winner of the Tour de France and a true champion, Greg LeMond. He was one of the first to question the validity of Armstrong’s victories in the Tour, and after winning seven in a row, and by such wide margins, LeMond’s terse and expert opinion: not humanly possible, unless you’re doping.
And talk about a big sports comeback: What's not widely known is that the year after winning the 1986 Tour de France, Greg LeMond was accidentally hit with a shotgun blast by his brother-in-law while hunting, nearly killing him. But he recovered enough two years later to participate in the Tour in 1989, and also in 1990, and won both times, despite having many of the pellets still lodged in his body, close to his lungs.
The ancient Greeks had a word, thymos, meaning spiritedness; also, a desire for self-recognition, for glory. But thymos needed to be restrained by reason. We see this in Homer’s Iliad, with the characters Hector and Achilles competing against each other in the Trojan War. Both have thymos on the battlefield but once the fighting is over, Hector can turn it off. Achilles cannot, and thymos overwhelms reason and dominates his soul. Proud and headstrong, he takes offense easily and reacts with blistering indignation when he perceives that his honor has been slighted – and lives his life with a “win at all costs” mindset, which turned out to be tragic.
For a long time, Lance Armstrong had been a symbol of what’s best in the American character. But slowly, and now suddenly, he has become the opposite.
Duncan Shaw is a freelance writer. He lives in Hillsborough.