Thursday 23 October 2014

Emma O'Reilly offers cycling a path to redemption

Reform of tainted sport bigger issue for former Armstrong masseuse than personal apology

Diarmuid Lyng

Published 20/11/2013 | 01:00

Eleven years after they worked together at the US Postal team, Emma O’Reilly met Lance Armstrong in Florida where he apologised for his attempts to ‘destroy her’

There are few people connected to the Lance Armstrong saga who can lift the pervading air of cynicism that wells up any time a new admission from cycling's darkest days comes to light.

Surely, beneath the rubble of cycling's fallen empire, is a story worth telling, a character that can emerge and provide some direction, where winning races sometimes can't.

Emma O'Reilly may be that person. Armstrong's former masseuse and soigneur, O'Reilly went on record with what she knew about Armstrong's doping in David Walsh's expose 'LA Confidentiel'. About that back-dated corticosteroid prescription. About using her own make-up to hide the needle-marks on Armstrong's body.

This week, it was revealed that O'Reilly travelled to Celebration, Florida recently to meet Armstrong for the first time in 11 years. She was accompanied by Matt Lawton of the 'Daily Mail'.

The online version of the story features video footage of Lance again pleading his case, making the point that he's being made a scapegoat, being given the 'death penalty' – to use his words – while others walk free.

It's a case he has made on the BBC and in 'Cycling News' in recent weeks. Nearly a year out from the Oprah interview, and staring down the barrel of a lawsuit that may leave him penniless, Lance is fighting for whatever he has got left. That's his agenda.

But what of Emma O'Reilly? She paid a heavy price for cleaning out her closet. In a hierarchy-based, male-dominated sphere such as professional cycling, this can't have been easy. Armstrong attempted to destroy her. He almost succeeded. But O'Reilly could have walked into the sunset. What brought her to Florida to confront Armstrong? It was something a lot of people on Twitter wanted to know yesterday.

As she made clear, she made the arrangements and booked the flights to meet Lance. For the visit, off-camera, she extracted an apology from him.

Lawton was on the show last night. He sat beside her on the flight to the States and made it clear that for O'Reilly, the issue was not just about Lance.

Instead, she believes that focusing on bringing Armstrong down is ignoring the essence of all that was wrong with him and the countless other cyclists that have blackened the name of probably the toughest of endurance sports. Armstrong is a symptom, not a root cause – the obsession with bringing him down is akin to putting a band-aid on instead of open heart surgery.

Perhaps it's time to forget Bruyneel, Ferrari, concealer and cover-ups, and even Armstrong. Focus on the athletes and the integrity of the sport. Address the need to win against the will to win.

This is her angle. This is her why. The cynic may disagree. But the message remains for those that want to listen to it.

Irish Independent

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