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Compiled by MARY HANNIGAN
Walsh's book should be must-read for Oprah
So then, it’s Oprah Winfrey who has been bestowed with the honour of an audience with Lance Armstrong, the man Travis Tygart, chief executive of the US Anti-Doping Agency, ‘credited’, before snaring him, as the chap who “pulled off the greatest heist sport has ever seen”.
Since the announcement, there’s almost been as much speculation about how Winfrey will handle the chat as there has been about what Armstrong might actually say, the Guardian’s Barney Ronay not sounding overly hopeful in his list of ‘Ten questions Winfrey probably will ask’. For example: “Would you like to see an uplifting montage of slow-motion footage of you looking triumphant and sad, soundtracked by Love Lift Us Up Where We Belong?”
Ronay is not, it has to be said, alone in fearing that’s as probing as the questions will get, former professional cyclist Matt DeCanio declaring that “Oprah Winfrey appeals to the general American public who shops at Wal-Mart, doesn’t know up from down or left from right and just wants to hear a feelgood story”.
Others, though, sense that Winfrey, in light of the somewhat overwhelming evidence against Armstrong, might feel just a little bit obliged to do more than offer a shoulder to weep on. American writer Henry Blodget, for example, a long-time supporter of Armstrong, until it dawned on him that his hero was, in fact, a vindictive fraud, reckoned that “Oprah certainly isn’t going to fly all the way to Armstrong’s house in Texas just to sit there and ask him how he’s feeling – at least I hope she’s not.” We’ll see.
Offered a list
Ronay’s Guardian colleague William Fotheringham offered a list of 10 questions Winfrey should ask, among them “What would you say now if you were alone in a room with any of the whistleblowers . . . who you threatened when they attempted to expose you?’. And, “In the light of the overwhelming evidence of doping against you in the 1999 Tour, have you any words for Christophe Bassons, whom you intimidated during that race over his anti-doping stance?”
Those who have read David Walsh’s Seven Deadly Sins – My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong will be more than familiar with this cast of courageous characters, among them Bassons, Emma O’Reilly, Greg LeMond, Betsy Andreu and L’Equipe writer Pierre Ballester who, ultimately, lost his job because of his pesky doubts about ‘Saint Lance’.
In the closing pages of the book, Walsh asked several of the people who’d had the guts to speak up over the years, regardless of the personal consequences – and, in some cases, they were brutal – to share their feelings after the Armstrong myth had, finally, been destroyed.
There was a wide range of emotions, the majority just weary from it all, but some, who had suffered more than most, couldn’t help but feel relief. Among them Kathy LeMond, wife of Greg: “Greg’s reputation, our business, our children’s teenage years, were all consumed by a vicious vendetta against Greg and our family because we wouldn’t go along with the lies . . . I imagine that maybe I could feel sorry for Lance, but not after so many years of interfering in our life. No way.
“There seemed to be no limit to his ability to insert himself into all areas of our life. It was really sick.”
It was too. The notion that Armstrong’s offences were ‘victimless’, that he was just another hapless participant on a dope-fuelled level playing field, and that nobody actually got hurt, would be quickly vaporised by reading Walsh’s book. Armstrong left a trail of victims, the punishment for those who violated the omerta simply startling. One woman who spoke out was, he said, just a “whore”.
Classy guy, Mr Armstrong.
Bassons, the French cyclist whose career was ended when he spoke out against doping, was a touch more gracious: “Today I feel more pity than contempt for him. I always preferred to be in my position than in his. I am honest, straight and happy. I don’t think he can say the same.”
In 1999 Bassons became a pariah in cycling after Armstrong made his move during a stage in that year’s Tour de France.
“He grabbed me by the shoulder . . . he said what I was saying wasn’t true, what I was saying was bad for cycling, that I mustn’t say it, that I had no right to be a professional cyclist, that I should quit cycling, that I should quit the tour, and finished by saying f**k you . . . I was depressed for six months. I was crying all of the time. I was in a really bad way.”
That was the end of Bassons in professional cycling, and the beginning of the Armstrong ‘legend’, the ‘Cancer King’.
Harmless fun? Count the largely unknown doped cyclists over the years who died trying to become legends too, seven alone in 2003 and 2004. And too many to count before that and since. None of them ever inspired ‘Livestrong’ wristbands, because we never knew their names.
Lawsuit of the week
John McCririck’s £3m ageism claim against Channel 4
He made his debut on the channel’s racing coverage in 1983 and further enhanced his fame by appearing on Wife Swap with Edwina Currie and Celebrity Big Brother with a bunch of really well known people whose names escape us just now.
But, Channel 4 opted to drop him, and he’s not taking it lightly.
“After 29 years with Channel 4 Racing, on a rolling annual contract, I have been sacked without any consultation or cogent explanation. I am 72. For the loss of future earnings, unfair career damaging, public humiliation, stress and mental anguish, I will be seeking £500,000.
“Ageism is illegal. For tens of thousands of employees it has become the feared scourge of our society. This litigation should prove to be a watershed.
“I am seeking a further exemplary, punitive £2.5m, part of which will be donated to charitable organisations helping to prevent negative prejudice in the workplace.” It should be an interesting battle, although it might be safe to assume McCririck won’t call Ted Walsh as a witness.
“I wouldn’t give McCririck the time of day,” he said a few years back. “I think he is a big oaf. He wouldn’t be safe on a bicycle let alone on a horse.”
Rory should just keep on being Rory
Did you see that rather marvellous BBC Northern Ireland documentary on Rory McIlroy a few days back, updated with end-of-year reflections and the like?
The best bits were those never-seen-before video clips of McIlroy swinging his golfing weapons as a baby man more or less precisely as he swings them now – the moral of the story: if it ain’t broke, don’t you dare ever try to fix it.
It’s been a heck of a journey from then ‘til now, to the point where American sunglasses people Oakley, owned by Italy’s Luxottica, have started legal action in California to challenge Nike’s proposed exclusive deal with McIlroy, now that he’s ended his contract with the Jumeirah Group.
Oakley would very much like to retain their relationship with McIlroy, but Nike would, we’re told, very much like to tie him to a 10-year deal worth in or around £156m.
Rory, you’d hope, will just keep on being Rory, and let the rest of them tear sponsorship strips off each other.
FA's offer to women footballers embarrassing, says Taylor
British women’s football was on a considerable high after a crowd of 70,584 turned up at Wembley to watch the team’s Olympic group match against Brazil, which the hosts won 1-0 before being knocked out at the quarter-final stage by Canada.
At that point the players, most of whom are members of the England team that has qualified for Euro 2013 in Sweden, were on a £16,000-a-year deal with the English Football Association, but have just been offered a generous increase – to £18,000 a year.
“Embarrassing,” said Players’ union chief Gordon Taylor.
Meanwhile, Manchester City’s Yaya Toure earns £250,000 a week.
Just saying. Them’s the gender breaks.
Goal of the week: Carl McHugh
That would be Lettermacaward’s Carl McHugh against Lifford’s Shay Given in the League Cup semi-final first leg joust between Bradford City (3-1 winners) and Aston Villa. As the Sky commentator put it, “Donnygaul beats Donnygaul!”.
“It’s all a bit of a blur really,” the 19-year-old McHugh told the Donegal Democrat, “I come from the same part of Ireland as Shay and I’ve watched him playing World Cups for Ireland so for me, it’s a dream come true.”
Altogether now: ‘Carlie’s winning matches, Carlie’s winning games, Carlie’s bringing the Capital One Cup back to Donegal again.’