Some random observations on cyclist Lance Armstrong after his recent interview with Oprah Winfrey.
One: How lucky are anti-drugs-in-sport campaigners in their enemies? Lance Armstrong’s appearance and demeanour in his interview with Oprah Winfrey last week put him in the rogues’ gallery of dopers, right there with the sexually ambiguous Eastern European weightlifters and red-eyed Ben Johnson: cartoon villains one and all.
Armstrong’s bobbing head and swivelling gaze cloaked him in the charm of a Velociraptor dropped from Jurassic Park for being too unsympathetic.
Two: The word ‘interview’ above is used in its broadest sense. Oprah Winfrey isn’t known for beating the truth out of her guests, figuratively speaking, but her reluctance to pursue quite a few admissions by Armstrong left the cyclist off lightly. Commentators have also pointed to Armstrong’s canny use of ‘flawed’ to describe himself, which is heavily reminiscent of the traditional plea-bargain made by the denizens of daytime chat show/bottom-feeder confrontation: Hey, that’s just the way I’m made.
Three: Point two does not confirm in any way that this writer is familiar with said television shows.
Four: Without showing any sympathy for Armstrong, is there an argument for legalising chemical assistance completely in sport? Too soon? We’ll come back to it.
Five: Given Armstrong’s fondness for the dictionary – he looked up the word ‘cheating’ to see if he had, in fact, cheated – should he have looked up his own first name instead, particularly the final usage? (n. 1. a. A thrusting weapon with a long wooden shaft and a sharp metal head; b. A similar implement for spearing fish; 2. A cavalry lancer; 3. Medicine See lancet. To make a surgical incision in; cut into: lance a boil.)
Six: What about the Rick Reilly and Buzz Bissinger row-backs? Reilly and Bissinger are two of the big names in US sportswriting, and staunch defenders of Armstrong until he was proven to be a liar and a doper.
Bissinger fessed up that he was wrong in a lengthy piece published online last week, while there were reports doing the rounds, also last week, that Reilly had received an email from Armstrong apologising for misleading the sportswriter. Reilly’s defence had always been that Armstrong told him he was clean, because the two were that close. Which tells you something about Armstrong’s ability to cultivate people. And about the dangers of getting too close to sportspeople.
Seven: On the other hand you had David Walsh’s long-standing pursuit of the truth. Nobody confuses sports journalism with . . . ah . . . saving the world, but Walsh is now in the same position that a history writer of Kingsley Amis’ acquaintance arrived at after many years of holding an unpopular opinion. Having stated for decades that Stalin was a genocidal dictator rather than a left-wing icon, the historian was eventually vindicated by documents released by the Russian authorities.
What are you going to call your next book, then, asked Amis.
Simple, said the historian: I Told You I Was Fucking Right.
Eight: In a swirling vortex of irony, our top award goes to the decision of the Olympic authorities to revoke, rescind or retrieve Armstrong’s Olympic medal.
If David Walsh’s long struggle tells you anything it’s to take a step back and not to drink the Kool-Aid; and question the hysteria at every turn.
It seems odd that last year’s Olympics, then, seems to be taken as a dazzling, unblemished success, particularly victories in some of the most traditionally tainted sports. Why the lack of questions? Did the appearance of James Bond in the opening ceremony rule out any suspicions?
Nine: To point four again. Could it be possible that instead of looking up ‘cheat’, like Armstrong did, we might be as well off examining what ‘advantage’ means? At what point does cutting-edge scientific preparation edge into illegality? Lance Armstrong seems a deeply unpleasant man compared with, say, Lionel Messi. But the tousle-haired magician of Barcelona was treated with human growth hormone as an undersized child. The dazzle of Messi’s talent and the modesty of his demeanour, however, seem to preclude any serious questioning of the morality of his use of HGH.
The traditional rebuttal is that Messi was given the treatment because of a medical condition that needed to be remedied, but doesn’t the result – a taller, stronger athlete – constitute an advantage, no matter how legitimately it was reached? Take it further: Oscar Pistorius, the South African who runs on those blades in the Paralympics, is someone who embodies even more challenging questions about sport. While we’re used to sex testing for gender difference in athletes, Pistorius’ blades force us further into issues of what it means to be human, a question which might be better answered by philosophers than sports administrators.
Ten: A fiver to you if you recall the last time you saw a LiveStrong bracelet. Answer to the addresses below.
* firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: MikeMoynihanEx