This week (particularly on Thursday evening/Friday morning), the world will get to see Lance Armstrong apparently `fess up to Oprah Winfrey regarding his lengthy and comprehensive doping programme. The United States Anti-Doping Agency (“USADA”) report into his misdeeds (and there were a lot of them) was a massive shock to the sporting world, and this is Lance’s chance to get across his side of the story, whatever that’s worth.
Lance Armstrong had of course in his pre-2012 existence been an example to millions of people. Here was a man who had had a promising cycling career, then been stricken with apparently terminal cancer apparently in his prime. I read “It’s Not About the Bike” when he was hitting his peak of fame and felt rather emotional when Armstrong described, having had a particularly bad reaction to a session of chemo, being barely able to cycle 50 yards before feeling utterly exhausted and as a result demoralised. The book set out his battle with cancer in great detail, and at the time I found his words and his story utterly inspiring. Armstrong had seemingly battled back from the brink of death to the very top of one of the most physically demanding sports there is. Seven Tour de France in a row was an unprecedented achievement – and he had done it clean. Or so we thought.
Then there was his wonderful charity work. “Livestrong” became one of the most recognisable brands in the world; 2005 was awash with chaps of a certain age wearing yellow wristbands with the slogan subtly engraved into the plastic. The name, the wristband and the brand were so inextricably linked to Armstrong’s incredible recovery, and his subsequent “clean” victories. What cannot be denied is that Livestrong has raised millions for a cause that is so important that pointing out its importance is largely pointless. Cancer research and treatment are vital, and every penny which goes anywhere near that cause is an important one. I’m sure “It’s Not About the Bike”, and Armstrong’s apparent achievements, will have helped cancer sufferers and inspired them in their recovery.
Where the difficulty comes in for Livestrong in particular is that the money they have received since the charity’s inception has at best been raised on an untruth, and at worst is utterly tainted. Granted, it is true that he recovered from a seemingly terminal form of cancer – it is of course what he did after that that arguably taints the work of Livestrong. Armstrong the man and his associated brands are undoubtedly done for financially, though he made a shrewd and fairly selfless move in removing himself from the Livestrong board not long after the USADA verdict was announced to attempt to preserve the charity’s good name.
His interview with Oprah won’t, I think, change very much. I imagine she won’t have asked him particularly searching questions – it certainly won’t be Paxman repeatedly asking “Did you threaten to overrule him?”, which might actually have worked as a question for Armstrong himself in relation to this treatment of his US Postal team-mates. Although he does seemingly confess to something, one imagines we will get a small percentage of the full story at best. This is Armstrong’s last chance, you feel, to redeem himself in the eyes of the world.
I for one, hope he doesn’t redeem himself, and I don’t think he will in any way. USADA have proved Armstrong is a liar, a man who duped people into believing his incredible story, myself included. He has a long road ahead of him, with most of the next few years likely to involve going in and out of courtrooms in defence of multi-million-dollar claims against him (the US Postal Service is seemingly working up to raising an action as I type). I must say I feel not a twinge of sympathy for his predicament – I imagine his chat with Oprah will do nothing to raise such sympathy in anyone else.