Armstrong's deadly sins a chilling reminder that the truth always comes out
CYCLING:There was no shortage of responses when David Walsh took to Twitter looking for suggestions that might make a suitable title for his story of chasing down the truth about Lance Armstrong – all the truth of which, we now know, adds up to one big lie.
How about ‘Truth In Remission’, or ‘The Legend Of Blagger Lance’, ‘LiAr’ or ‘Silence Of The Lance’, or even ‘50 Shades Of Bullshit’? In the end, Walsh settled on Seven Deadly Sins, perfectly suitable too, given Armstrong was, at various stages of his career, guilty of all seven of them: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and even gluttony.
Armstrong wasn’t, however, the only one. When the United States Anti-Doping Agency published their “Reasoned Decision” back in October, with evidence that showed “beyond any doubt” that “the US Postal Service pro cycling team ran the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping program that sport has ever seen”, Armstrong’s days were numbered, and so too were many of his fellow cyclists from that era.
While Armstrong remained coldly defiant, many of his team-mates finally woke up to the reality. In his book, The Secret Race, Tyler Hamilton confessed to the near inevitability of succumbing to performance-enhancing drugs, given their prevalence in the peloton. Not that this was any excuse, Hamilton agreed, and the UCI, the governing body of world cycling, had no choice but to strip Armstrong of his seven successive Tour de France titles, won between 1999 and 2005. It was a catastrophic fall from grace for Armstrong, all he represented in and outside the sport of cycling, and a chilling reminder that the truth always comes out in the end.
Element of wrath
Denial is often a sin in itself, but there was an element of wrath, too, in the way Irish marathon runner Martin Fagan also succumbed to performance-enhancing drugs, the positive test for which emerged at the start of January. Already broken by a series of injuries, and financially too, Fagan tested positive for erythropoietin, one of the most conventional and readily detected methods of performance enhancing, better known as EPO.
Fagan had willingly taken it too, ordering the EPO on the internet, then administering it to himself at his training base in Arizona, in such grimly crude circumstances that he felt the low of the junkie. The wrath he was feeling at the time was at least partly to do with another truth that he needed to face up to, that he had become clinically depressed.
For Fagan to confess to the cheating on himself and his sport was the easy part; what wasn’t so easy was dealing with the depression, the way some people were interpreting it, yet in the end telling the truth took him to a better place.
Missing London turned out to be the least of Fagan’s worries, although not so for European and Irish light heavyweight champion Joe Ward. A victim of some slothful refereeing at the Olympic boxing qualifier in Turkey in April, Ward pursued his case all the way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas), right up to the eve of the London Games. As if being controversially beaten in Turkey wasn’t bad enough, Ward was also overlooked for a wild card into the Olympics, which was given to a boxer many places below him in the rankings.
Sins of the past
There was something almost lustful about the way Cian O’Connor pursued his Olympic dream, which in the end covered up any sins of the past. O’Connor only made it to London after a late call-up, when Denis Lynch was controversially de-selected, and only made the 22-man final, as first reserve, after the late, late withdrawal of Sweden’s Rolf-Göran Bengtsson’s horse Casall.
Against that backdrop, O’Connor rode around Greenwich Park with incredible intent, his horse, Blue Loyd 12, matching the fervour. After two spectacular rounds, O’Connor then went into a jump-off to decide the colour of his medal – bronze – the 32-year-old finding ultimate redemption for his disqualification from gold in Athens eight years ago on Waterford Crystal, who later failed a dope test.
Another of Ireland’s Olympic selections, this one being the six women for the 4x400m relay, inevitably created some envy, given Athletics Ireland decided on Kilkenny’s Catriona Cuddihy, ahead of Joanna Mills, from Ballymena, even though Mills had run the quicker time, and the athletes themselves didn’t expect selection to be agreed until after the National Championships in Santry.
There was never going to be any winner in the series of appeals that followed, given both athletes were reserves, but when Cuddihy got the nod in the end, Mills subsequently declared her intention to switch allegiance and represent Great Britain.
Whatever about pride coming before a fall, there was clear greed surrounding the betting controversy of Irish sailor Peter O’Leary, again on the eve of the London Olympics. This concerned two bets he allegedly placed on British sailor Iain Percy winning the gold medal in his Star class at the Beijing Games.
Although in breach of International Olympic Committee guidelines, O’Leary received little more than a “slap on the wrist”, but Irish Sailing still characterised the betting controversy as “malicious”, suggesting the timing of the story’s release may have cost Ireland a medal in Weymouth.
Indeed in the sometimes murky and harsh world of elite, competitive sport, there are occasions when even those sinning are being sinned against.