Awful truth finally catches up on Armstrong
SIDELINE CUT:For years, he seemed to walk through life with a kind of invisible coat of Arthurian armour. He was a mythical figure. Now his key role in the corruption of a whole sport has been exposed
OF ALL the questions attached to Lance Armstrong’s plummeting star, one stands out: how did he ever believe that everyone would stay quiet forever? Armstrong has 3,750,000 followers on Twitter, more than Tiger Woods has and half as many as LeBron James, who is probably the most famous sportsman on the planet.
The public fascination with the Texan cyclist far exceeds the profile that his sport commands in the United States. For years, it seemed as if Lance was bigger than cycling.
His astonishing run of seven successive Tour de France victories from 1999-2005, when he effectively took ownership of one of the most savage races ever dreamed up, partly stoked that interest. But Armstrong’s appeal was always tied in with his remarkable personal tussle with cancer, when force of mind and positive thought proved instrumental in restoring a body ravaged with the illness not only to full health but to the point where he was regarded as one of the great athletes of modern times.
His personal charm – a quick smile and light Texan drawl and easy articulacy – also gave him an edge in an era when most elite athletes are guarded and uncomfortable in public situations. He sat as easily on the leather suites of iconic chat show hosts as he did on the saddles which carried him across the toughest roads in Europe.
On his Twitter account the other night, Armstrong posted a video which was not a reminder of his halcyon days as cycling’s great champion but a recording by the late, great Elliot Smith singing Coming Up Roses. It seemed like a blackly comic attempt to remain indifferent in the face of the most damning evidence that he corrupted not just his own sporting life with a programme of blood and substance doping but pressurised his fellow cyclists into doing the same.
The hefty report released by the United States Anti-Doping Agency presents the cold evidence of 11 of Armstrong’s former team-mates at the US Postal Services team. It is made clear that an ambitious, sophisticated and totally premeditated culture of drug and blood-doping was the framework around which the success of the team was built.
The sustained deliberation carries echoes of the sinister practices which ruined the lives of so many young athletes in the former German Democratic Republic. It is made clear that Armstrong helped “in running the US postal team as a doping conspiracy” and that they sought to “achieve their ambitions though a massive fraud now more fully exposed”.