independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Lance the bully is the most frightening aspect of scandal

Weeshie Fogarty gives his take on the ins and the outs of the Lance Armstrong affair

UNLESS you were living on another planet during the last few weeks you will certainly have heard the name Lance Armstrong mentioned on ever single radio and television news and sports programme.

And the newspapers have had that very same name splashed all over their pages as the sporting world attempts to come to terms with his confession as being the greatest cheat in the history of sport.

Integrity, sportsmanship, pride: if there are three words, which make up the foundation of the sporting world, then these are them. All sports are built on a drive to improve, the chance to compete against your opponent, an the opportunity to build strong bonds with others.

So many sports are the building block for life and here in Kerry this is never more evident as we are so well aware with the massive tradition not alone in Gaelic football, but in other areas of sporting achievements, but for all those that grow and mature through sports, there are those that take the game a little too seriously.

To those few the difference between winning and losing isn't an option. So instead of trying harder and training longer they cheat. And when a cheater gets going and succeeds in getting away with it, chances are good he'll do it again and again and again just as the Texan did it to win his seven Tour de France crowns making a vast fortune in the process.

Over the Christmas period I read two superb books about the hidden world of drug taking in professional cycling. Tyler Hamilton was a member of Armstrong's US Postal Service cycling team in the Tour and his biography, ' The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs', is cycling's equivalent of sucking snake venom out of a bite and spitting it out for the world to see

It's a book you simply can't let down and the one thing that comes shining through in both books is the fact that Lance Armstrong, above everything else, was a bully of the highest order. Both authors continually return to this one facet of his dominance, bullying intimidation, threatening, name calling and sheer hatred of those who attempted to find the truth and expose his reliance on enhancing performing drugs.

For me this aspect of Armstrong's character was the most revolting and, indeed, frightening of all. And both authors give vivid accounts of just how intimidating Armstrong was towards them as he cheated and lied on his way to those seven Tour wins.

The second book was David Walsh's enthralling work, ' Seven Deadly Sins, My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong', which recounts in vivid detail his pursuit of the truth about Armstrong for thirteen long years. Now Walsh has been fully vindicated in what he has said and written about the seven times winner during that period of his life.

When Armstrong won his first Tour de France in 1999, there was a massive surge of support for him. Here was a great story: in the aftermath of the doping controversies. If there is a hero to this dismal story it's David Walsh, a journalist with the Sunday Times of London. For years he harried Armstrong, who retaliated with intimidation and lawsuits.

A frighteningly strong personality, Armstrong silenced anyone who crossed him with what Hamilton calls in his book "the look." He was capable of physical violence, Hamilton writes, and he would bully any rider who threatened to break the code of omertà, telling him to get out of the race. Secrets are poison.

Last week I interviewed David Walsh on my Radio Kerry programme, Terrace Talk. He has just been voted Sports Journalists of The Year in Britain for his book on the Armstrong saga. I first met him in Killarney in 1984 as he attended a Kerry training session before that year's centenary All Ireland final. He was back then as now a journalist with the Sunday Times. In our interview he explained to me from his home in England that he was never convinced Armstrong was riding clean of drugs and in his seemingly never ending quest for the truth Walsh was accused by Armstrong of lacking ethics and dubbed a "troll"

Lance Armstrong's book, ' It's Not about The Bike', where he recounts his amazing recovery from cancer portrays him as near invincible and in his fund raising for cancer research, which also brought him to Killarney he had millions of followers around the world. All that is now shattered in the saddest way possible, but by far and away the biggest loss for me is the fact that this man who beat cancer could still be the greatest hero of all to those unfortunate cancer sufferers who idolised him if he only he had refused the temptation to join others and become a drug cheat.

Imagine Lance Armstrong riding in seven Tour de France races, the greatest sporting test of the human spirit, finishing every year, albeit well down the field, maybe even last of all, sending out his message loud and clear, bringing comfort to those afflicted with cancer: "I have defeated the greatest enemy of all and if I can do it so can you." Sadly now all is lost as we witness the greatest cover-up in the history of world sport.

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