JOHN RIORDAN: A statue pulled off his pedestal
By John Riordan
The day after part one of the highly-anticipated Lance Armstrong interview on the Oprah Winfrey Network was always going to be about those he crushed along the way.
Emma O’Reilly who he can’t remember suing. Betsy Andreu who he says he didn’t call fat. The US reporters and columnists who were the subject of odd rants like “I can get into your emails, I can get into your phones, I know what you’re doing at all times”.
All of them, David Epstein of Sports Illustrated, the author Daniel Coyle and a handful of others, were unanimous in their praise of David Walsh but angered by what they saw as a wholly unsatisfactory response from the disgraced cyclist.
Then there were the staunch allies like Rick Reilly who stuck with him until it was clear he’d admit to doping. His Thursday ESPN column about the lies he fell for was widely ridiculed. And the Washington Post sportswriter and Lance biographer Sally Jenkins deleted her Twitter account yesterday while colleagues poured scorn on her unwavering and highly profitable books, It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life and the 2004 follow-up Every Second Counts.
“I think it was a mistake [to do the interview],” commented Coyle who wrote last year’s The Secret Race with one of Armstrong’s key accusers, Tyler Hamilton.
“These are conversations that should have taken place in private. To do it in front of millions of people without a net, that’s a gamble. That’s how he’s operated his whole life, taking these gambles. I don’t think this one worked… it definitely can’t get worse.”
Hamilton went on the NBC Today Show and described the interview as “a huge first step”.
“For a lot of people, it’s raw. I’ve known about it for a long time, since 1998,” he said.
“You can tell, it’s real. He’s very emotional and he’s definitely sorry. I don’t know. I think it’s going to be a hard next few weeks for him, next few months, years. He did the right thing, finally. And it’s never too late to tell the truth.”
Betsy Andreu, the wife of former cyclist Frankie and the woman who testified in 2005 about Armstrong’s mid-1990s admission of his drug use only to be subsequently hounded did the talk show rounds and told CNN immediately after the interview ended that Armstrong fell way short of what she needed to hear.
“You owed it to me Lance and you dropped the ball,” she said, directing her eyes to the camera.
“After what you’ve done to me, what you’ve done to my family and you couldn’t own up to it. And now we’re supposed to believe you?
“I want to believe that Lance wants to come clean but this is giving me an indication that I can’t.”
Andreu was then shown a clip of Armstrong’s now notorious snippet which spoke about their 40-minute phone conversation: “I think she’ll be ok with me saying this,” he guessed wrongly. “I said ‘listen, I called you crazy, I called you a bitch, I called you all these things but I never called you fat’.”
“Well I guess we know why I was [crazy] all these years,” she retorted.
“Putting up with that? How would you act? Sweet as apple pie? He shouldn’t have done Oprah. He shouldn’t have gone on there. This is going to be a long process for him but he’s approaching it the wrong way. That exchange right there has me furious.
“This is a guy who used to be my friend, who decimated me. He could have come clean. He owed it to me. He owes it to the sport that he destroyed. And when he says he doesn’t like the UCI, that’s a bunch of crap.”
Meanwhile, Armstrong’s hometown newspaper sent their reporters out into the streets of Austin to speak to locals who were watching their local hero’s public downfall.
“I can’t understand why it took Lance so long to admit it,” John Carls told the American-Statesman.
“What good does it do now? Who does it benefit? He let so many people down. My main concern is for Livestrong, a really well-meaning organisation.”
At a bicycle shop called Nelo’s, David Figueroa said: “Lance is a marketing machine. You can’t help but question his motives.”
And the paper’s sports columnist Kirk Bohls wrote about his sadness at the whole affair in an above-all angry column.
“Transparency was lacking. So was sincerity. He was glib at inappropriate times, downright evasive at others and disingenuous most of the time. Armstrong all but said that if his closest friend, George Hincapie, hadn’t testified against him, he wouldn’t be talking to Oprah now.”
In one of the most powerful reaction columns of the day, Bonnie D Ford, a cycling and Olympics writer with ESPN.com described it as “a typical Lance Event … it was about spectacle and managed production and trying to craft another chapter in a punctured epic that has lost its helium and sunk to earth”.
“It was desperate,” she continued. “And huge chunks of it ranged from disingenuous to unbelievable. There was far too much defiance and contradiction of evidence and abdication of responsibility to respond to in one column…
“Armstrong exerted the last bit of leverage he had left in public life by going big-picture pop-culture first. He decided to take aim at hearts and minds rather than making the kind of detailed confession to legal and anti-doping authorities that would have advanced the plot and made a small start on freeing him up to lead the rest of his life.
“It was a delusional move, not to mention an utterly backward one. Armstrong is a toppled despot, but his legs are still moving reflexively in the rubble. By force of lifetime habit, he’s still trying to shape his own narrative.”
The Sports Illustrated media critic Richard Deitsch said “it was interesting theatre… where the interviewer came off far better than her subject”.
“His answers on Betsy Andreu and Emma O’Reilly — devoid of empathy and overflowing with arrogance — will likely haunt him long after the interview. Winfrey failed to press him about his interactions with these two women and she really should have, especially on O’Reilly, the former Postal Service team’s masseuse who Armstrong called a prostitute and an alcoholic.”
As Deitsch pointed out, the true winner of the evening was Oprah herself who was certain to gain millions of viewers not to mention the worldwide audience enjoyed by the Discovery Channel — part owners of the Oprah Winfrey Network and former sponsors of Lance Armstrong’s disgraced team.
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