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Armstrong keeps living strong

Anti-cancer crusader admired despite doping scandal

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It's not so much that the Lance Armstrong story was too good to be true. Now it might just be too good to let go.

Even after investigators unveiled a scathing report portraying him as an unrepentant drug cheat, Armstrong continues to confound his public with competing images: a rapacious, win-at-all-costs athlete or a hero who came back from cancer.

We've all heard his story before: An up-and-coming cyclist gets testicular cancer at age 25. He's given less than a 50 per cent chance of surviving. Instead, he fights it off and comes back stronger. He wins the Tour de France seven times. Hobnobs with presidents. Dates a rock star and pretty much becomes one himself. Uses his fame and success to raise millions to promote cancer awareness.

Even if it's the impossible fairy tale it sounds like, built on a brittle mountain of drugs, deception and arm-twisting, it's the narrative the world has listened to for nearly 15 years.

More than 1,000 pages of finely detailed evidence from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency are now in the open, supporting its decision to ban Armstrong for life from cycling and order his titles stripped for using performance-enhancing drugs. Yet while other sports stars who have faced drug-induced downfalls -- Marion Jones, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens -- fade from memory or become objects of scorn, Armstrong keeps rolling along.

Sure, negative comments dot the landscape -- people have put an "x" through the "v" on their Livestrong wristbands to make it read "Lie strong." But the tributes also keep coming: a few dozen new posts on a Facebook page titled "Lance Armstrong Supporters" either vilify USADA or tell Armstrong they've got his back.

You can see it from the sponsors -- Nike is one -- that are sticking with Armstrong. You can see it in the donations to the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which have spiked since August, when Armstrong announced he wouldn't fight the doping charges.

It also shows in the way Armstrong steadfastly goes about his business. On Thursday, the day after the USADA report came out, he was at his foundation headquarters in Austin, Texas, looking for a place to hang a picture. On Friday, he linked to his Twitter account a shiny new slide show touting the top 15 things his foundation has accomplished since it was founded 15 years ago this month.

He's sold 84 million yellow Livestrong wristbands and a good number of the more than 25 million people fighting cancer worldwide look to him for inspiration to gain strength to keep going. Armstrong showed them it could be done, while raising more than $500 million to help their cause.

The fervent support Armstrong, 41, engenders in the wake of such damning facts and testimony from nearly a dozen ex-teammates is a sign of the emotion his story still holds. That's an element missing from the stories of Jones, Bonds, Clemens, Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa and others who've been tainted by performance-enhancing drugs.

None of them overcame what Armstrong did.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 14, 2012 B13

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