How Lance Armstrong Parlayed His Goodwill Into an Entertainment Career

It’s hard to look back at Lance Armstrong’s career and think about him through the lens he was viewed through at the time. Although cycling has never been a major American sport, Armstrong’s domination of the sport, combined with his touching story, made him a superstar. At the height of his career, Armstrong was more significant than an athlete. He was a philanthropist, a television personality, and an entertainer. 

Lance Armstrong on a motorcycle smiling, slightly blurred
Lance Armstrong | Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Armstrong’s early years

According to Biography, Armstrong started as a triathlete but quickly realized that his true love lay in the cycling portion. He devoted his life full-time to the sport of cycling. Initially, Armstrong began to rise after the Olympic trials in 2002. As the odds-on favorite to win the event in Barcelona, Americans began to take notice in the cyclist. Unfortunately, Armstrong didn’t live up to the height and came in 14th place. 

Over the next few years, Armstrong began to chip away at the competition, winning the 1993 World Road Race Championship and dominating several other competitions in the process. By the time that the 1996 Olympics came around, Armstrong noticed that he was getting more fatigued than he usually was. While still racing well, something was wrong. 

The peak

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Everything changed shortly after Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer that had traveled to his brain. Given a 65-percent chance of survival, Armstrong battled hard and beat cancer by February of the following year. This event started a rebirth of sorts. By the next year, Armstrong was ready to compete again. 

He worked his way back into shape in time for the 1999 Tour de France, where he surpassed all odds and won. The following year, he repeated as Champion and took home the Bronze at the Olympics. He continued his winning streak at the Tour de France until 2005 when he retired from the sport. After a brief comeback from 2008 to 2010, however, Armstrong’s world came crashing down. 

Rumors of performance-enhancing drugs followed Armstrong throughout his career, but without a positive test and the goodwill of his story, they were largely ignored. This Cinderella story came to a halt after former teammates confirmed his participation in a blood-doping scandal, as reported by CNN. The national hero became a villain after the extent of his use became public knowledge. 

It was an epic downfall for somebody who had become a national treasure.

Armstrong as an entertainer

Armstrong’s rise to household name was inextricably linked to both his performance on a bike and his memorable story. However, Armstrong’s fame was also bolstered by a media machine that allowed him to become bigger than any sport. He used this to help develop the Livestrong foundation and raise awareness for cancer research. He also used this, however, to elevate his status as a celebrity. 

Fans of 2004’s hit film Dodgeball will immediately remember the scene where Armstrong, appearing as himself, spoke about overcoming enormous odds. He later appeared where most big names appear on the Simpsons, offering a similar, comedic look at his life as a megastar. Armstrong was on top of the world. 

He hosted the 2006 ESPY awards and was a staple on talk shows across the world. Armstrong was also a renowned pitchman, selling bikes, shoes, drinks, and whatever products people were willing to pay him to shill. He was an icon with a huge fan base and all the goodwill. All of these went away after his admission, however. 

Nowadays, Armstrong still makes appearances. He occasionally pokes fun at his scandals and uses the same machine that made him famous to now try rehashing his image. A new two-part documentary on ESPN called Lance has given Armstrong a candid way to tell his side of the story, from the high highs to the low lows. 

For a modern audience, Armstrong’s name lives on in infamy. For a previous generation, he was a name that transcended sports and became a full-blown celebrity. It just goes to show how quickly things can change for those who finally reach the top of whatever mountain they are climbing. 

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