15 January 2013

Lance And Oprah

This morning, while doing my stretches and getting dressed for work, I was listening to the news.

I heard what I'm sure you've all heard by now:  Lance Armstrong, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, has admitted to using banned substances.

To me, it's interesting that Winfrey said he "did not come clean in the manner I expected".  Of course, I won't know what she meant by that until I see the interview.  She said he "was ready" and "met the moment."

Now, I have to wonder what made him "ready" for a "confession".  And why did it take an interview with Oprah for him to "come clean".

While I am willing--however reluctantly--to believe his confession and guilt, I find it interesting, to say the least, that it's taken so long for anyone to establish his guilt. It seems that athletes in other sports--baseball in particular-- who were using banned substances were found out more quickly than Lance was.   

On the other hand, I don't think I have to wonder why there was so much more pressure on him to confess than there has been for other cyclists.  The first five-time winner of the Tour De France, Jacques Anquetil, once said something to the effect that nobody ever won the Tour on salad and mineral water.  

Other cyclists have admitted that doping was rampant in the sport.  But, none of them won the Tour seven times.  And none of them was American.   What's more, none of them did it the way Lance did it: He concentrated on winning the tour to the exclusion of many other races, including classics like Paris-Nice.  That is in marked contrast to riders like Eddy Mercx and Bernard Hinault who, between them, won about 400 more races than Armstrong did.

Plus, he managed to rankle other cyclists, including his teammates, in ways that no other winner did.  To be sure, they all provoked envy among the riders they defeated, and the ones who served as domestiques on their teams.  But, as fiercely competitive as they were on their bikes, they were gentlemen off their bikes.  Armstrong, from what I've heard and read, was cocky and often arrogant.  Now, I'm not saying that's a good reason to accuse him or to get him to confess.  But I think that other cyclists, as well as the sport's officials, wanted to see him brought down in ways they never wanted to see their old heroes dethroned.

Whatever their motives for bringing Lance to "justice", and whatever his motives for confessing, this is still a very sad time for the sport.  After all, he is one of the few larger-than-life personalities the sport has produced.  Other cyclists, like the ones I've mentioned and Miguel Indurain, were lionized for their athletic prowess.  But even Indurain himself admitted he wasn't much of a story when he wasn't pedaling.  As he once told a journalist, "My hobby is sleeping." 

I believe that the sport will continue even after Lance has been, in effect, excommunicated from it.  But it won't be the same.    About the only person who will benefit, I think, is Oprah.  To be exact, her network will benefit. After all, some people will look for it on their cable boxes for the first time.  


  1. Apparently part of the motivation to come clean is so that Lance may one day compete in triathlons and running events. If he is able to compete in the future, how can we believe he is not taking performance enhancing drugs then?

  2. The French media had accused Lance Armstrong of doping while he was still racing and his response was always an aggressive denial. I think Lance backed himself into a corner in the manner of his denials and his attitude towards the accusers, both journalists and former team mates, made admitting his wrong doing even harder.

    Doping has been around in cycling for a long time and the actions of the UCI in the past, in relation to policing doping, has not been good. The life of a professional cyclist is physically demanding and mentally tough. When sponsor money and pressure for consistent results are added to the mix, then lines have become blurred. Cycling has been no different from other professional sports, other than attempts were being made to clean it up. Professional soccer is another sport where drug usage is apparently common but a regular drug testing regime is not in place.

    This is not a justification of Lance's actions, but he has drunk from the same poison challace as others, such as, Marco Pantani, but what marks Lance out as being different, is that he never admitted his guilt despite the evidence, until a time of his choosing. I think his own actions around denial/confession have diminished his reputation a lot more than if he owned up years ago. People are more likely to forgive a full and frank confession, delivered alongside an apology. A grudging admission as part of a self publicity interview just doesn't deserve the same level of forgiveness, nor respect.

  3. As you first commenter notes, Armstrong wants to compete again, and somehow believes that his half-confession will enable him to do so.

    It's worth noting that he didn't merely "rankle" vast numbers of people, but he ruined quite a few, too. Whatever else one can say about Armstrong, he's no sportsman. And he is, clearly, a liar and a cheat.

    A sad day, indeed.

  4. Oak--It's clear that he does want to compete again: If not in pure bike races, then in triathalons or marathons. But I don't know whether that will happen: The governing bodies of sports, not to mention sponsors, see him as tainted.

    Grubb--I think your analysis is right. Another thing that makes Lance a "special case" is that he was (or seemed to be) the best American cyclist, but also the first to truly generate interest in cycling in America. Granted, a lot of people were following Lance and not the sport. Still, I can't help but to think that the UCI was willing to go along with whatever Lance did because he was, in essence, their ticket to the American market. This situation reminds me of the home run derby between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1998. I think Major League Baseball knew that McGwire (and other players) were taking steroids. But they wanted that record-breaking race between the two sluggers because MLB was still reeling after the strike of 1994, which, I think, alienated fans more than any other work stoppage in the history of North American sports.

    Brompton--Lance reminds me of a kid who's beat up his sister and is apologizing to her only because his mother told him to do so. That is clearly not going over very well with the public, not to mention sponsors and his foundation.