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Lance Armstrong stepping down as Livestrong chairman

By Jim Vertuno

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 17 2012 7:17 a.m. MDT

FILE - In this Aug. 22, 2010, file photo, cyclist Lance Armstrong greets fellow riders prior to the start of his Livestrong Challenge 10K ride for cancer in Blue Bell, Pa. Even after whistleblowers unveiled their scathing report portraying Armstrong as an unrepentant drug cheat, the argument over what to make of his life story rages on.

Bradley C Bower, File, Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas — Lance Armstrong stepped down as chairman of his Livestrong cancer-fighting charity and Nike severed ties with him as fallout from the doping scandal swirling around the famed cyclist escalated Wednesday.

Armstrong announced his move at the charity in an early-morning statement. Within minutes, Nike said that it would end its relationship with him "due to the seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade."

Nike said it will continue to support Livestrong.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency released a massive report last week detailing allegations of widespread doping by Armstrong and his teams when he won the Tour de France seven consecutive times from 1999 to 2005.

The document's purpose was to show why USADA has banned him from cycling for life and ordered 14 years of his career results erased — including those Tour titles. It contains sworn statements from 26 witnesses, including 11 former teammates.

Armstrong, who was not paid a salary as chairman of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, will remain on its 15-member board. His duties leading the board will be turned over to vice chairman Jeff Garvey, who was founding chairman in 1997.

"This organization, its mission and its supporters are incredibly dear to my heart," Armstrong said in a statement. "Today therefore, to spare the foundation any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding my cycling career, I will conclude my chairmanship."

Foundation spokeswoman Katherine McLane said the decision turns over the foundation's big-picture strategic planning to Garvey. He will also assume some of the public appearances and meetings that Armstrong used to handle.

Kelley O'Keefe, professor of brand strategy at Virginia Commonwealth University, said the charity already may be permanently damaged and that Armstrong may never be able to fully resume his public role.

"From the brand perspective, Armstrong is done," O'Keefe said.

O'Keefe compared Armstrong to Tiger Woods and Michael Vick, who also were embroiled in controversy but were able to return to the playing fields to help redeem their image.

"Armstrong doesn't have that. He's just a retired athlete with a tarnished image," O'Keefe said.

Armstrong strongly denies doping, but did not fight USADA accusations through arbitration, saying he thinks the process is unfair. Once Armstrong gave up the fight in August and the report came out, crisis management experts predicted the future of the foundation, known mainly by its Livestrong brand name, would be threatened. They said Armstrong should consider stepping down.

Armstrong's inspiring story of not only recovering from testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain but then winning the world's best-known bike race helped his foundation grow from a small operation in Texas into one of the most popular charities in the country.

Armstrong drew legions of fans — and donations — and insisted he was drug free at a time when doping was rampant in professional cycling. In 2004, the foundation introduced the yellow "Livestrong" bracelets, selling more than 80 million and creating a global symbol for cancer awareness and survivorship.

"As my cancer treatment was drawing to an end, I created a foundation to serve people affected by cancer. It has been a great privilege to help grow it from a dream into an organization that today has served 2.5 million people and helped spur a cultural shift in how the world views cancer survivors," Armstrong said.

As chairman, Armstrong did not run the foundation's day-to-day operations, which are handled by Livestrong president and chief executive Doug Ulman.

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