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Dublin: 10 °C Sunday 9 August, 2020

Old Nike ads: Armstrong talks about doping, but doesn't actually deny it

The sportswear manufacturer is standing by the disgraced cyclist on account of his charity work.

A COUPLE OF Lance Armstrong’s old Nike ads from years ago look extremely strange in light of the recent U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report, which alleges that the cyclist did indeed take banned substances, and spent years as a master manipulator of the system.

In both ads, Armstrong talks about doping and banned substances. One ad actually shows a technician drawing blood from his arm, presumably for a drug test.

In both ads, Armstrong implies that his talent comes from his work attitude, not illegal performance enhancers.

But in both ads — and this is the really weird bit — Armstrong doesn’t explicitly deny doping. Instead, he elides the issue by suggesting that his critics are losers.

Armstrong’s seven Tour de France titles will likely be stripped from him as a result of the report, but Nike is standing by him, due to his charity work. (See both ads below.)

In the first ad, from 2001, Armstrong intones:

This is my body and I can do whatever I want to it. I can push it, and study it, tweak it, listen to it. Everybody wants to know what I’m on. What am I on? I’m on my bike, busting my ass six hours a day. What are you on?

All of that is technically true, whether he took drugs or not. The phrase “I can … tweak it” now seem especially prescient. And he avoids the answer to his self-posed question, “What am I on?”

Here’s the ad:

(YouTube credit: JChau)

In the second ad, Armstrong discusses the cancer survivors who inspired him to set up his Livestrong Foundation:

The critics say I’m arrogant, a doper, washed up, a fraud, that I couldn’t let it go. They can say whatever they want. I’m not back on my bike for them.

Again, technically Armstrong didn’t deny being a doper, even after raising the issue himself.

(YouTube credit: VHKLHoldings)

There are two explanations for the double-coincidences. Cynics will argue that as Armstrong knew he would be lying if he outright said he was clean, he deliberately ensured the script never said that.

The alternative explanation might be that both Nike and Armstrong were trying to make commercials that were cool. There’s nothing more uncool than re-enacting a Nancy Reagan-style “just say no” message, and thus the spots are deliberately subtle.

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