Americans need their heroes |

Americans need their heroes

These are hard times for those who need our sports heroes. Even as we celebrate their achievements, we’re fearful that someone is waiting to tap them on the shoulder, holding up positive results from a drug test.

The dark cloud hangs heavy over superstars like the San Francisco Giants’ Barry Bonds, or track and field legend Marion Jones. There is no evidence that they have used performance enhancement drugs, but accusations swirl around their friends, employees, or relatives.

Which brings us to bicyclist Lance Armstrong, who – with an explosive Alpine time trial on Wednesday that blew away his rivals – is now a near lock to win his record sixth straight Tour de France.

Who knows how many hundreds of thousands of Americans are getting up in the wee hours of the morning to watch the Texan and his U.S. Postal Service team march inexorably to victory in Paris on Sunday?

None of us wants to think about how blood doping – artificially increasing the number of the red blood cells that carry oxygen to muscles – has been the bane of professional cycling for years. (At least 16 riders have been kicked out of this year’s Tour alone.)

Nor do we want to think about Armstrong’s doctor being investigated in a doping scandal, the fact that his longtime coach was linked to a steroid case in 1990, or accusations in a new book (Armstrong is suing for libel).

We continue to cheer for Armstrong. Perhaps it’s because after beating a cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain, he became the greatest bike racer in history. Maybe it’s because we’re not particularly fond right now of the French, who seem determined to bring Armstrong down.

For whatever reason, we’ll go on seeing his sixth Tour victory as a triumph of the human spirit, just as we’ll keep cheering for Barry Bonds to stretch the limits of baseball.

And if our faith is later dashed, we’ll find new heroes to inspire us. It’s the American way.

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