Chipping away at Lance Armstrong's bulletproof veneer
CYCLING:David Walsh spent years doggedly searching for the truth behind the cyclist’s heroic image, and his story is a fascinating read
Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong, by David Walsh, Simon & Schuster, 426pp, £14.99
For many years he was polished and in control before the cameras, delivering his message with a practised charisma. Things were markedly different during Lance Armstrong’s confessional with Oprah Winfrey last week. The Texan had chosen the talk-show host as the conduit for the message he had to tell the American people: okay, despite what I said before, I doped . . . but I had to do it, I was on a mission to bring hope, and the sport gave me no choice.
Armstrong had enjoyed a warm reception during his previous appearances on her programme, and, maybe thinking back to a somewhat soft interview with the runner Marion Jones after she was exposed for doping, the Texan believed that he would be in the driving seat.
Winfrey had other ideas. Stung perhaps by his previous insistence that he was clean and also by the scepticism on Twitter and other forums that she was the right person for the job, she and her researchers worked hard to prepare for the programme. It wasn’t quite 60 Minutes, but she posed enough solid questions to leave Armstrong shaken.
Admitting doping, and lying, at the very outset of the broadcast, he sought to spin the message as best he could. However, Armstrong really dropped the ball when it came to the subject of Betsy Andreu. The wife of his former team-mate Frankie Andreu, she had been one of his most outspoken critics for many years and testified under oath that she had heard him admit doping to the doctors treating his cancer back in 1996.
Choosing not to confirm that she had been right about the hospital-room confession all along, Armstrong sought instead to play down years of insults aimed in her direction. “I did call her crazy,” he admitted to Winfrey. “I think she’d be okay with me saying this . . . I told her: ‘I called you crazy, I called you a bitch, I called you all these things . . . but I never called you fat.’”
Delivered with a slight smile, this may have been an attempt by Armstrong to lighten the moment, but Winfrey was not impressed by his flippancy, nor by his admission of bullying. She pushed him for the remainder of the interview, and when the full two and a half hours had been shown, Armstrong’s reputation was in ruins.