How icons crumble

On the surface, Lance Armstrong's doping, cheating and lying seems a matter of individual corruption, an Aristotelian tragic flaw in character. He broke not only the rules of professional road race cycling, but also a code of personal ethics. Yet, upon deeper analysis, his deceit also raises questions about how modern societies define success and choose its icons. Perhaps Armstrong lied and cheated not only for the personal glory, power and money that come from being a celebrity, but also because he wanted to give a custom-made hero to a world that increasingly cares only about success and not how it is achieved.

Everyone loves it when the underdog emerges a champion. So Armstrong was worshipped not only because he won the Tour de France cycling championship seven consecutive times but also because he beat cancer to achieve this amazing feat. His success gave hope to everyone, not only sportspeople, because it made us believe that the combined force of human will and hard work can overcome even the vagaries of destiny. But in a world where public perception (doxa) trumps real knowledge (episteme), success is easy to corrupt. Perhaps that is why no one stopped to ask, how is it possible? No one wants to hear bad news.

Unsurprisingly, evidence of Armstrong's feet of clay came as a huge shock and disappointment. The world lost a hero and the dream that despite the harshness of circumstances, human beings can achieve the extraordinary. In hindsight, various sources insist that Armstrong's dishonesty was there for all to see but most chose to ignore their suspicions. Armstrong had not only hypnotised the world into believing he was invincible on a bike but also cast himself as a pillar of the community through his Livestrong foundation for cancer support. He was too powerful to tear down. Because to tear him down would mean not only to tear down the individual, but also society's collective desire to rise from the ashes and "have it all".

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