Sonia O’Sullivan: Lance Armstrong’s story continues to fascinate

Disgraced cyclist’s visit to Dublin for a ‘fireside chat’ in RDS should be interesting

I only met Lance once, briefly, at the start of the 2008 Boston Marathon, when someone asked could they take a photo.

I only met Lance once, briefly, at the start of the 2008 Boston Marathon, when someone asked could they take a photo.

 

It’s billed as a ‘fireside chat’ with Lance Armstrong, next Friday week, at a sporting conference at the RDS. And like a lot of people I’m still trying to figure out the interest and intrigue that continues to surround Armstrong

Though too far away to think about attending in person, I’ll be tuned in, waiting to see the reaction he gets.

In ways it’s like tuning in to a soap opera, and the new season is about to kick off in Dublin. It actually reminds me a little of the TV series The Fall: we all know who the bad guy is, we should hate him, turn our backs on him, but we can’t help watching, wanting to know what becomes of him in the end.

I first tuned into the world of Lance Armstrong after reading his book It’s Not About the Bike, some time after the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Like many people, I was taken in by his story. All of a sudden Lance became someone I wanted to know more about. Every article, every news story, fell under my radar.

Before that, I never quite got the obsession with the Tour de France. I remember my coach Alan Storey talking about going home after training to watch his recording of that day’s Tour stage. I was too busy with my own world of training and racing to focus any of my energy on a bike race that lasted three weeks in July.

Fully absorbed

For me, all the things that were so often questioned by others all rose to the surface with the publication of The Secret Race, by Tyler Hamilton in 2012.

I read that book in one afternoon, and realised I’d been in denial for so long, but also intrigued how someone I’d been so fascinated about could turn out to be so bad. Again, like a lot of people, I’d worn the yellow bracelet, even had some of Livestrong gear. One of the first races my daughter Sophie won on the track she is wearing that bright yellow Lance t-shirt.

Second Captains

Looking back now, I feel we were all taken for a ride. Maybe it was something that you wanted to believe in, even if there were always those lingering questions and doubts.

It’s rare enough that I find myself drawn towards other athletes, what makes them so good at what they do. It’s not always about the results, but how they portray themselves in public and attract an audience.

There is a little bit of mystery that makes us all curious. How can they be so good? And you think of yourself, and how it’s hard to pinpoint any one thing that makes one athlete stand out more than others.

Is it the things you don’t know about, the will-to-win at all costs (within the rules of course) that draws us to be fascinated by other athletes in other sports? Whenever I get to talk to other world class athletes, no matter what their sport , I want to know what it takes to be their best.

Maybe that’s part of the continuous intrigue around Lance Armstrong, and why it seems so many people tuned in last week to a conference preview interview on Newstalk. It was all there, the arrogance, disrespect and rudeness – traits you would not encourage or promote – yet many of us still listened in, talked about it afterwards, still wanting more answers.

Is it because for so long, to so many people, Lance was someone they looked up to and accepted more for his success, fame and perceived charity work, over how he truly came across as a person? Even now he speaks with very little remorse for what he did.

I only met Lance once, briefly, at the start of the 2008 Boston Marathon, when someone asked could they take a photo. It was a year after he had run the New York Marathon in just under three hours – 2:59:36.

Anyone who has ever run a marathon will know that you can’t just turn up and expect to easily run sub-three hours for a marathon. It takes a bit of training, and you can’t be carrying too much weight either. It requires a significant change in lifestyle and habits and when you try a different sport like that there are always things to learn and do differently.

Lance managed to get the support of two of the best-known marathoners in the US in Alberto Salazar and 1984 Olympic Champion Joan Benoit Samuelson, for pacing and advice, along the way. He also had 1,500m world record holder Hicham El Guerrouj waiting on the Willis Avenue Bridge to pace Lance over the final 10km into the finish line in Central Park.

I was also in New York that year, and given a smile and high five from El Guerrouj as I crossed over the bridge, where he was jogging on the spot trying to stay warm as he was waiting for Lance to arrive. There were more stories written about Lance than any other athlete in New York that year, before and after the race.

I’m still trying to figure out why, even now, long after his fall from grace, people are still so curious about how his life is playing out. It’s almost as if people want the script to continue.

When I first heard he was coming to Dublin, I wondered what the reception might be, given there are some connections here with his undoing down through the years. So I’m not sure it will pass off as a quiet fireside chat, and if I was there, I wouldn’t be as comfortable posing for a photograph, like I was eight years ago.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.