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Columns

September 1, 2012

What’s in a name? The difference between a hero and a fraud

Two “heroes.”

Both named Armstrong.

One named Neil.

The other named Lance.

One a reluctant celebrity, who once he had done a tremendous service to his country, retired to private life like Cincinnatus returning to his farm after saving Rome.

The other, a seeker of fame and fortune, who repeatedly cheated and lied, desperately clinging to the glare of the spotlight.

One, a symbol of the past and the future, who combined an old-world decency and modesty with the ability to inspire a generation to reach for the stars.

The other, a poster child for all that is false and degrading about our vainglorious present, who lent his name to slick marketing for personal gain and callously let down thousands of young people who looked up to him.

Neil Armstrong, who died at age 82 on Aug. 25, was the first human being to walk upon the surface of the moon. He will be a hero for at least as long as his footprints remain on the lunar surface, which will be thousands of years.

Asked how he felt about those footprints, he once replied: “I kind of hope that somebody goes up there one of these days and cleans them up.”

Lance Armstrong was the best ever at pedaling a bicycle, winning seven Tour de France titles. He overcame testicular cancer and created the Livestrong nonprofit, dedicated to cancer research.

On Wednesday, beginning his speech at a cancer conference in Montreal, he said: “My name is Lance Armstrong. I am a cancer survivor. I’m a father of five. And yes, I won the Tour de France seven times.”

What he didn’t say is that he had to cheat to win all those races and that all of those titles are being taken away from him for a very good reason.

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