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What is Lance Armstrong's legacy?

By Times staff writers
Published July 31, 2005


Cycling is an eccentric sport the masses seem to know little about.

Lance Armstrong grabbed our attention in 1996 when - as the top-rated cyclist in the United States - he announced he would retire to battle the testicular cancer racing through his body.

Doctors told Armstrong his chance of beating cancer was less than 50 percent.

He won.

Armstrong went on to sip champagne on the Champs-Elysees seven times for each of his Tour de France victories. He developed a reputation for his fearless ascent into the Alps and Pyrenees mountains, where he often decided the race.

Armstrong is to cycling what Wayne Gretzky is to hockey, Michael Jordan is to basketball and Muhammad Ali is to boxing.

More important, Armstrong is an icon for cancer survivors. He spreads hope the way his yellow LIVESTRONG bracelets have spread around the world. He has proven a good fight can defeat almost anything.

We should all aspire to inspire others in a similar fashion.

Spreading hope is his legacy.



Hyperbole is the bane of my existence. As a copy editor, I cringe whenever I read that a play was "miraculous," a decision "catastrophic" or an athlete "heroic."

Which brings us to Lance Armstrong and his, ahem, "legend."

People, he's a cyclist.

I'm not denigrating him as an athlete. He's clearly a remarkable one, and he has dominated his sport's signature event in a way few athletes have. But before you start throwing around words like "legend," take a quick poll of your friends. Ask 1. What other events has Armstrong won? 2. What are cycling's other big events? 3. Who are cycling's other greats?

Drawing blanks, right? Cycling simply isn't a sport many people care about outside of three weeks a year, and before Armstrong few Americans cared even then.

He's a cancer survivor, too, which is nothing I'd ever belittle. Yet measured against the likes of Jesse Owens, or Jackie Robinson, or Muhammad Ali - athletes who broke barriers, became political figures, by choice and often at great risk - labeling his accomplishments as "heroic" feels out of proportion. The right term is "admirable." That's his legacy. And there isn't a bit of shame in it.


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[Last modified July 31, 2005, 01:32:21]


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