Fall of a Tragic Hero


It has been one week since Lance Armstrong finally released his unbearable burden: yes, he took EPO. Yes, he resorted to blood transfusions. Yes, he took testosterone. Yes, he took human growth hormone. And yes, he sued people for telling the truth. The symbolic aspect of Armstrong confessing all that to the "wise, healing" figure of Oprah Winfrey must have struck any AltRight reader. Lance Armstrong is maybe not a white nationalist, but last week, it was “one of us” who threw in the towel before “one of them.” Even if none of the two were conscious of that.

Fight back and win

Lance Armstrong is not only a good-looking, powerful and intelligent champion (there are very few athletes who cumulate all these assets; I can only think of Roger Federer). He is not only a perfect Nordic type who would have left Madison Grant in admiration. He is also, and more importantly, the incarnation of something I think is peculiar to Europeans: the will to fight even when everything seems lost.

One could instantly think of the three hundred Spartans who sacrificed themselves for Hellas at Thermopylae. In the realm of sports, I think, more simply, of Manchester United’s victory in the 1999 European Soccer Champions League. With Bayern Munich ahead by one goal in  extra-time, “Man U” managed to score two goals in one minute, allowing a certain David Beckham to win his first major trophy. Two months later, a former world champion, who had been forced into retirement because of serious testicular cancer, won, quite easily, the first of his seven Tours de France.

The teenager I was at that time could not fail to detect the same pattern between those two victories. Moreover, I strongly identified with Lance Armstrong that July in 1999, since my team-mates and I won a much more modest title, the French Rowing Championships, in a wooden boat (all the other teams had faster, synthetic boats). It was one year after we failed to even qualify for the same national championships, so the “fight back and win” aspect of Man U and Lance Armstrong’s exploits had a very strong appeal to me. Of course, the fact that it was in my country that Lance Armstrong wrote the seven pages of his legend also played an important role.

A perfect Hollywood scenario

Overcoming cancer and then triumphing in one of the most difficult tournaments: this seemed to be a perfect scenario for Hollywood. Even poor Mariah Carey mentioned Lance Armstrong in the video-clip of her embarrassing revival of Phil Collins’s Against All Odds, in 2000.

Though Lance Armstrong won in a White Man’s game — his main challenger was the 1997 Tour de France’s winner Jan Ullrich, from Germany — I couldn’t help thinking, even in those racially unconscious days, that the Texan was somehow fighting against the “rising tide of color” in sports. When journalists blamed Lance Armstrong for being “arrogant,” it was not his “Yankee” pushiness that made them insecure. If it were so, they would have loathed Maurice Greene the same way. No, what disturbed them with Lance was the fact that he was well-spoken, successful in all kinds of ways, and with fair hair and light blue eyes at that.

I noticed the same irritation when the Greek sprinter Konstantinos Kenteris won the 200 meters final in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. This time, it was not in a White Man’s game, not at all… and when the Black finalists reacted by saying that “he was unknown before the Olympics,” I think everyone in front of his TV knew perfectly what really annoyed them.

From Western hubris to European self-mastery

Now Lance Armstrong is broken: he will have to pay back $10 million to his former sponsors, insurance companies, opponents in court, sports authorities, cycling teams. etc. The amount could even rise to $100 million, which is about what his personal fortune is estimated to be.

In all his hubris, Lance cheated; it cost him one testicle, and he cheated again, in the process becoming a legend… and now, everything’s gone. In the manner of Stalinist Russia, his name is being erased from the Tour de France’s prize list, even if everybody knows who actually won from 1999 to 2005.

It’s all the more unfair since his predecessor, Italy’s Marco Pantani, winner of the 1998 event, died under very dubious circumstances in 2004. Jan Ullrich won an inhuman stage victory in Andorra (Pyreneans) in 1997. Later, he was convicted of doping. Denmark’s Bjarne Riis, the 1996 winner, is still on the prize list, though he has admitted to doping. And the list goes on and on.

What does Lance Armstrong’s initial come-back, and eventual downfall, tell us? In a civilization that is in its Autumn, if not already entering Winter, it’s a certain type of Western man that is dying, waiting better times to rise again. Lance could have been a navigator in the 15th century, an explorer in the 16th, a settler in the 17th. He might have fought for American independence, or become an industrial capitalist in the 19th century. Born in the earlier part of the 20th century he might have risen to become a great astronaut like his even more famous namesake. But he was born in the post-WWII West, where men of value have only vicarious ways to prove their worth.

So he cheated, he deceptively won, and eventually he lost everything. In a metaphoric way, it can only lead us to think of our fellow Westerners: money-obsessed sluts who get banged in sordid highway motels by “Kings of real estate” instead of taking care of their children, or immature fathers who fantasize about their daughter’s friends instead of protecting their families.

The Industrial Revolution, the Summer of our civilization, proved to be a mere straw fire. It left our people exhausted, both physically and morally, forced to exist on drugs, whether EPO or cocaine, casual sex, video games, or fake “careers” in order to pretend they were still “winning.” But they weren’t. We shall never renounce our “Faustian” way of being, because that’s what makes us unique. But we should find better ways of making it meaningful in a world where our civilization is on the decline. That means being true to ourselves and doing the best we can. Not pretending that we win when we don't and striving for the prize of pity at the feet of Oprah Winfrey.