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Sometimes, stories really are too good to be true

Monday, January 21, 2013 - Updated: 5:49 PM


Recorder Sports Staff

A cyclist overcomes cancer, only to go on and win the biggest bike race in the world an unprecedented seven consecutive times.

A linebacker at the most storied college football program in the country loses his girlfriend and his grandmother on the same day, then leads his team to an undefeated regular season, a berth in the national championship game and gets himself a runner-up finish in voting for the Heisman Trophy.

These are great stories. Incredible, emotional, gripping stories the likes of which end up getting passed down for generations. Frankly, they sound too good to be true.

This week, the world found out they were, when the weight of the 24-hour news cycle crashed down atop both Lance Armstrong and Manti Te'o.

Armstrong, long a hero for winning his battle with testicular cancer and then claiming victory in the Tour de France for seven straight years from 1999 to 2005, finally -- under a mountain of evidence -- fessed up to the fact that all seven victories were the product of a sustained program of blood doping and performance-enhancing drug use.

Te'o, the best defensive player on a Notre Dame team barely a week removed from its national championship loss to Alabama, had an exceptionally bizarre rug pulled out from under him Wednesday when Deadspin reported that his girlfriend who had died in September had not died, been Te'o's girlfriend or, in fact, ever existed in the first place.

Let's face it, it's easy to be a sucker for a good story. Armstrong's story was so magical and Te'o's so emotional that so many people -- even the journalists covering the stories -- just accept it at face value and get immersed in the drama.

This week, reality punched good narrative in the face.

In Armstrong's case, this was a long time coming. Through all his triumphs, through all his work as a hero in the cancer community with his Livestrong foundation, the cloud of doping accusations followed Armstrong.

Last year, it finally hit a tipping point, with former teammates coming out of the woodwork like Tiger Woods' mistresses to provide testimony to the United States Anti-Doping Agency of Armstrong's misdeeds.

The hammer fell -- hard. Armstrong was banned from competition for life by USADA, stripped of all seven Tour titles and became a pariah who was dropped by all of his sponsors and as the head of Livestrong.

Under all that, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Armstrong finally confessed to the web of lies that supported his legend.

Well, mostly.

Armstrong still denies many of the major claims leveled against him -- that he doped after his 2009 return to cycling, and that "donations" to both USADA and cycling's governing body were really bribes to cover up his activity -- but more than that, in his admission, he came off as not just remorseless, but sociopathic.

He lied, manipulated and justified his way to the top. Why would he stop now?

As for Te'o, his story is far more bizarre -- and still extremely murky.

When did the Fighting Irish linebacker know that the existence of his online girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, was nothing but a hoax?

Was it, as he's maintained, at the bitter end? Te'o told ESPN's Jeremy Schaap that it wasn't until the Deadspin report came out that he truly became sure the whole thing was a hoax. If that's the case, then at best Te'o is too gullible, trusting and naive for his own good.

Or was he in on the whole thing, either from the beginning or discovering the lie sometime in the middle of the tale and covering things up both to avoid embarrassment and benefit from the publicity the story brought him.

At this point, it's easy enough to give Te'o the benefit of the doubt, but if it comes out that it's the latter, then you can take the "sociopath" tag on Armstrong and clip one on Te'o as well.

These were both great stories. Now, they've just been moved to the fiction section.


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