A really honest liar
Over the years there have been plenty of “tell-all” interviews by disgraced public figures which haven’t actually told us anything, other than confirm the desperation of the subject to clear their names or at least salvage their battered reputations by blaming everybody else.
Think Alan Bond, after setting a record for his dissembling “can’t recall” efforts in court, trying to exculpate himself for leaving thousands of shareholders destitute. Tiger Woods trying to apologise for having sex with almost half the planet in a bid to win back his sponsors and get back on the clubs. Even last year’s stage-managed nonsense by the gold-medallist and piano-tosser Grant Hackett, conveniently hosted by Channel Nine ahead of his appearance as a special commentator on that network at the London Games.
I had little enthusiasm ahead of Lance Armstrong’s interview on Friday, for a couple of reasons. The first was that so much of it had been leaked in advance that it became a weird story where you felt like you were over it before it had even began. The second was that given he had spent almost two decades lying through his teeth, I doubted there was anything he could say which would be illuminating or even interesting.
I had my keyboard at the ready in the belief that the whole thing would be an exercise in blame-shifting, that he would present himself as a naïve and innocent victim of a crooked culture, that the sport made him do it. I also thought he would get a bit of an armchair ride from his mate Oprah, whose style of interviewing tends to go more for soft confessional than sleeves-up interrogation.
Not only was it a robust and thorough interview, it was a fascinating one. It was fascinating mainly because Armstrong, who has always been a man who exuded self-confidence, arrogance and ego, was stripped back to the very essence of his being and resigned to the fact that he had to be absolutely honest about everything he had ever done.
It was not like he had any choice. As he said at the start of the interview, “this is too late, probably too late for most people”. He looked totally defeated, totally ashamed. There was no way he could have credibly got away with putting his behaviour in some artificial context, blaming others for placing him under pressure, saying that he succumbed to a broader culture, even though that broader culture most certainly did exist, if it doesn’t still exist in this absurdly discredited sport.
But it should be recognised that he was completely honest. It is here where he differs with many who have been busted and used their first interview to try to slither their way out of strife.
Despite his candour Armstrong should not be rehabilitated as some kind of hero for telling the truth in such a ludicrously belated fashion. He surrendered that right by being such a defiant and pig-headed and aggressive person for so long, calling people liars for correctly suggesting he was on the juice, threatening legal action against his detractors and plotting to ostracise clean cyclists who wanted to abide by the rules. He admitted as much on Friday. He should instead be remembered as a case study in the dangers of blind hero worship. It is hard to imagine how many people did their dough on his books, wasted their time and money flying to Adelaide to see him ride, joined the twitter throng when he tweeted that he was going for a ride along the beach in SA. If it wasn’t based on deceit it would be sort of amusing that so many grown men squeezed themselves into lycra in a bid to emulate their hero.
The people I feel really sorry for are the many victims of cancer who drew inspiration from his absurd story. Whether Armstrong was a drug cheat or not, I always regarded him as a scientifically-challenged macho man for constructing such a hairy-chested mythology around his cancer battle. He seemed to have got it into his head that he was such a super hero that he just stared the cancer down. It’s rubbish. Cancer is a crap shoot. You either die or you don’t. I have friends who have survived this capricious and horrible condition, and others who have died from it. The ones who carked it didn’t do so because they weren’t mentally strong or not up for the fight. It’s rubbish to suggest as much, as Armstrong did through his actions, turning it into one of the central planks of his entire marketing strategy. But as he said on Friday, “the story was so perfect for so long” – overcoming disease, winning seven Tours, the perfect marriage, great kids. Except, you know, it was all based on crap.
Finally, and out of journalistic self-interest, the Armstrong story is an excellent testament to the deeply irritating role of reporters as world’s best practice pains in the backside. I sincerely hoped that the French hacks at L’Equipe, who were defamed by Armstrong as envious, evil liars for the best part of a decade, cracked a few bottles of their quality local drop on Friday night. Without their perseverance this story may have never been told, and this sport never been given a chance to clean itself up, if indeed it can. Indeed the only way the sport can probably get its house in order is if people keep on hating Lance Armstrong.
The most dangerous suggestion for cycling in Armstrong’s comments was that what he did was not the exception but the norm. Obviously that was the case. If everyone believes that, there is little point regarding it as a sport at all, more a drug-taking competition.
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