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Is Lance Armstrong’s status as a cancer hero in jeopardy?

Jordana Divon
Shine On
August 24, 2012

Dozens of cancer patients sat patiently in the room, waiting for a chance to ask Lance Armstrong a question. It was early 2009, and Armstrong had arrived in Australia as part of his "Tour Down Under" to raise funds for cancer treatment.

"He had testicular cancer, I have testicular cancer. It was a massive help to know I could still achieve my goals as a sportsperson," a young man tells reporters. Watch the video about his trip here.

And that was the key to his legacy. Beyond the multiple Tour de France titles and Olympic medals, Armstrong inspired millions to "Live Strong" and never quit.

With countless yellow bracelets sold and $470 million raised for his anti-cancer charity, the 40-year-old became far more than the greatest cyclist of all time. He stood as a figure of hope, a testament to what the human body and mind could achieve together when put to the test. He inspired generations to never stop fighting for their dreams...or for their lives.

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Only it appears he finally met his match.

Armstrong has been battling allegations that he took illegal performance enhancing drugs for years. He has always maintained that he was innocent of the charges laid upon him by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, and his fans stood by him the entire way.

A message published on his website on Thursday suddenly changed the game.

"There comes a point in every man's life when he has to say, 'Enough is enough'," reads the statement on Lancearmstrong.com.

"For me, that time is now. I have been dealing with claims that I cheated and had an unfair advantage in winning my seven Tours since 1999… The toll this has taken on my family and my work for our foundation and on me leads me to where I am today — finished with this nonsense."

While it's crucial to note that the Texas native hasn't admitted to doping outright, his decision to stop fighting the accusations has been interpreted by many as an indirect admission all the same.

Travis Tygart, USADA's chief executive officer and the major thorn in Armstrong's side, used the statement as a de facto green light to claim victory.

The organization promptly stripped Armstrong of his seven titles and imposed a lifetime ban from competitive cycling against the recently retired athlete.

"It is a sad day for all of us who love sport and our athletic heroes," Tygart writes in an official statement to Reuters.

"This is a heartbreaking example of how the win-at-all-costs culture of sport, if left unchecked, will overtake fair, safe and honest competition, but for clean athletes, it is a reassuring reminder that there is hope for future generations to compete on a level playing field without the use of performance-enhancing drugs."

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Reaction has been swift and sorrowful.

Many writers, while lamenting the news and what it implied, are refusing to condemn him the way Canadian Olympic sprinter Ben Johnson felt the public's wrath after his own doping scandal in the late 1980s.

ESPN sports columnist Darren Rovell brings up the crucial point that despite the controversy Armstrong's legacy extends far beyond two wheels.

"Armstrong won't lose the people who he told to live strong, who he inspired to fight on when they had lost their hair, when chemo had ravaged their bodies just like it had invaded his," he writes. "He won't lose the people who, through his story, believed and, in the end, cheated death."

Others echoed Armstrong's "witch hunt" accusation against the USADA, and blasted the organization for convicting him before the case has even gone into arbitration.

"Lance has never withdrawn from a fair fight in his life so his decision today underlines what an unjust process this has been," laments his former Tour de France team sporting director Johan Bruyneel.

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But many have come out swinging against him, too.

Yahoo's Les Carpenter went so far as to call him a "fraud masquerading as a hero," while the head of the World Anti-Doping Agency echoed the notion that Armstrong's decision was as good as a guilty plea.

"The simple fact is that his refusal to examine the evidence means the charges had substance in them," John Fahey says.

So far, Nike — one of Armstrong's major sponsors — has decided to stand by their man.

"Lance has stated his innocence and has been unwavering on this position," the company writes in a statement. "Nike plans to continue to support Lance and the Lance Armstrong Foundation, a foundation that Lance created to serve cancer survivors."

And no matter how many medals they strip off his neck, may this particular legacy continue to live strong.

What do you think? Has Lance Armstrong tarnished his legacy beyond repair or should his foundation work to minimize the impact of his doping scandal?

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