Lance Armstrong doping – a difficult conversation

Today has seen the report from the USADA (US Anti-Doping Agency) into the doping allegations against Lance Armstrong.  As the findings bring to light “the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen”, this is a difficult time for us parents who have to explain what all this means to our inquisitive offspring.

Here is a blog we first published back in August, when the rider was stripped of his Tour de France victories.  At the time we were in that wonderful, golden time between the Olympics and Paralympics. It all seems a long time ago now.

“My eldest son, N,  first heard of Lance Armstrong, and his incredible achievement in winning 7 Tour de France races, in November 2011 when he was 5 years old.  I know this, because he brought home a reading book called Tour de France (Oxford Reading Tree: Stage 6) and it’s logged in his school reading record.  He loved the book, as it explains all about the race and the jerseys. The last two pages are about Lance Armstrong.

For N, and the many thousands of other primary school children who have read the book, Lance Armstrong is therefore the first – and until Bradley Wiggins won this year, the only – professional cyclist they’re aware of.

When the Tour was on in July, N did something he’s never done before, and brought home the same reading book twice, and again we discussed how amazing it was for someone, especially one who’d been so ill, to win the Tour so many times.

This weekend has been a difficult one.  N’s now 6 years old, and he greeted me on Friday evening with the news “Mummy, you know Lance Armstrong, who won the Tour de France 7 times in the row? Well, he’s not the winner any more”.  Over the past 48 hours we’ve talked a couple of times about the situation, and had a discussion about cheating, and another (thankfully a brief one) about drugs.

Some of the questions have been obvious, although not easy to answer – What are drugs? What is cheating? Who is the winner now? What will Lance Armstrong do now?

Others only a 6 year old can come up with – Is Calpol a banned drug?  Will he have to give the yellow shirts back?

We’ve talked at length about what cheating is and isn’t, why we have rules in both life and sport, why some people are so desperate to win at any cost that they cheat, and why some use drugs. We’ve also talked about the immense hard work athletes have to put in to get to win at their chosen sport, and how most don’t use drugs.

The question that I fear the most is the one I really don’t know the answer to. He’s not asked yet, but I know it’ll come in time, in some form or other.   “Do any of my new found Olympic heroes take drugs?”

We’ve spend the past month celebrating the achievements of a wonderful Olympic Games, and a whole new generation now play at their own versions of the Olympic sports in gardens, lounges, parks and bedrooms across the country. They’ve got a whole host of new superheroes, who until now could do no wrong.  The Lance Armstrong case has opened their eyes to another side of sport – the greed, the cheating and the lies.  A little bit of innocence has been lost this weekend.”

Since I wrote this in August, our children have lived through the Paralympics, and been inspired by even more true sporting heroes.  Let’s hope the next generation of sporting greats, currently in their formative years, take their inspiration from those who inspire through hard work and raw ability rather than those who won by chemical means.

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