Wednesday 7 December 2016

Paul Kimmage: You can't be angry if you don't care

Published 07/08/2016 | 17:00

‘Michael O’Reilly has disgraced our country.’ That’s not how I feel. To be shocked or angry or indignant you have to care. And I don’t care. Photo: Sportsfile
‘Michael O’Reilly has disgraced our country.’ That’s not how I feel. To be shocked or angry or indignant you have to care. And I don’t care. Photo: Sportsfile

This is how it starts: It's Thursday afternoon and I'm sitting on a sunny beach terrace nursing a glass of chilled wine when my phone shudders with a missile launched from the lilywhite land of Kildare. It's John. Twitter. He's not happy: "No comment from @PaulKimmage either about the Irish boxing positive, strange considering he targets other countries' athletes with glee."

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My apologies, John, what would you like me to say?

"I'm shocked."

But I'm not shocked.

"I'm angry."

I'm not angry.

"Michael O'Reilly has disgraced our country."

That's not how I feel.

You see, to be shocked or angry or indignant you have to care, John. And I don't care. I don't care for the Olympic Games. I don't care for the Olympic values. I don't care for the Olympic anthem. I don't care for the Olympic flame. I don't care for the Opening Ceremony, or the Closing Ceremony, or the medals table.

I don't care.

I keep hearing that I should care. I keep hearing that the Olympics still matter. I keep being told to accentuate the positive, not the negative, and that we've got great people there - Sinead and Claire and Sanita and Fionnuala and Pádraig and Paddy and Michael and Leona and Gary and Paul and Ciara, to name a few - and that if the Olympics matter to them, they should matter to us.

That's fair. But you can't tell people what they should and should not feel. They either feel it or they don't. They either buy it or they don't.

And I don't.

I'm not buying Thomas Bach. I'm not buying Craig Reedie. I'm not buying Pat Hickey or Dick Pound or Seb Coe. I'd rather have Citius, Altius, Fortius tattooed to my wrinkled penis with a rusty nail than to have anything to do with the Lords of the Rings or their circus. That's why I'm in Portugal this week, not Rio.

And don't ask me to watch on TV.

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I can't stand Paula Radcliffe and Steve Cram and Brendan Foster and Jonathan Edwards and Chris Hoy and Denise Lewis and Colin Jackson and Michael Johnson, and the incessant cheerleading on the BBC. I don't care for Usain Bolt (above) waving his shoes at me. I don't care for Mo Farah tapping his baldy head. I don't care for Michael Phelps winning his zillionth medal.

I don't care.

Shall I continue, John?

1 Myth And Memory Powder

"What about your ethics, Chris? You use the word 'betrayal' and I think, 'That's exactly what I want to hear'. But then I see you at (Alexandre) Vinokourov's retirement party, and being photographed with him."

"This guy is a big icon in cycling."

"He's a fucking cheat."

"You said that."

"I want you to say it, Chris. As a cycling fan, I want you to say, 'You know these fucking cheats? I'm sick of them. They've ruined the sport. They're ruining my life. This is the price I'm paying for these fuckers, so I'm not going to have anything whatsoever to do with them'."

An interview with Chris Froome

June 2014

In July 2007, on the eve of the 94th edition of the Tour de France, I was sitting at a desk in the Excel Centre in London's Docklands, staring at the blinking cursor on my laptop, when my attention was drawn to Jean-Louis Le Touzet. It was the ear muffs that set him apart. He put them on when he was writing "to remain detached".

A sense of detachment was imperative to Le Touzet. "You know," he explained, "cycling is a wonderful sport. I mean, you write about football and they don't care if you ever come back, but cycling embraces you. It wraps itself around you and won't let you go. It holds you close to its bosom and says, 'I love you'. But to do your job correctly, you have to push it away. You can't love it back."

Politics was his usual beat. He had spent the year covering the French presidential elections for his paper, Liberation, but had been applying his razor-sharp perception to the Tour for years. And he had some fascinating views on the recent scandals - it was a year after Operation Puerto and the disqualification of Floyd Landis - that had brought it to his knees.

"The Tour always considered itself bigger and stronger than doping," he said. "It's like the alcoholic who thinks he can control his drinking but who wakes up one day to find he is dependent on it. There was a book published recently by the former race director Xavier Louy, that made some interesting points.

"The power of the Tour has always been about memories - the great riders, the great battles, the mountains, the suffering - and those memories served as a kind of washing machine. If ever there was a stain and the race was mildly tarnished, you stuck it in the machine with some myth and memory powder and it came out nice and fresh. But the machine has reached the end of its cycle. The powder has run dry and the washing keeps coming out dirty. Winning has no value any more. How can you exploit a win that nobody believes in?"

It was an hour later when Alexandre Vinokourov, one of the pre-race favourites, entered the hall. The Kazakh had just put his name to a new anti-doping charter produced by the UCI, the sport's governing body, and was in typically bullish mood when he faced the press.

He had won his first Grand Tour - the Vuelta - a year before, made some serious improvements in the time trial, and had dedicated his season to winning the Tour. He had also acquired a new trainer, Dr Michele Ferrari, the controversial genius behind Lance Armstrong,

The news furrowed some brows. "What credibility would your win have if you're working with Ferrari?" a journalist inquired. Vino was unperturbed. "He's my trainer, not my doctor," he replied, "and nobody asked any questions when he was working with Lance."

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It should have ended there. We were still five years before the fall of Armstrong (above) and that was normally how these things worked. The Maillot Jaune sat down, sprayed the press with bullshit and watched them scurry back to their laptops.

But the smell was singeing my nostrils. I raised my hand.

"You said that nobody asked any questions when Ferrari was working with Lance Armstrong - that's not true. I thought it was disgusting. I think it's disgusting that you're working with him now, and I'll be disgusted if you win this Tour. Does it not affect you that so many in this room are disgusted by what you're doing?"

Vinokourov was stunned. "Ferrari has done nothing illegal," he countered. "He was never condemned in Italy. He is my trainer, not my doctor. Why do you think that trainer means 'doping'? I have done my work and have nothing to reproach myself for."

Two weeks later, after blitzing the field in the time trial at Albi, and winning the mountain stage to Loudenvielle, he was thrown out of the race for blood doping.

Banned for a year, he announced at first that he was retiring, but returned to the sport in 2009. Three years later, I was calling the road race on live TV for Al Jezeera, when he became the Olympic Champion in London.

I almost combusted: "This is the worst possible result for the race and the sport."

But others had no such qualms.

A month later, Vinokourov was honoured with a reception by the Principality of Monaco, where the guests included Eddy Merckx and three men who were on the start line yesterday for the road race in Rio: Philippe Gilbert, Vincenzo Nibali and Chris Froome.

I did not tune in.

2 Dangerous Liaisons

"Olympic medalist and 2013 world champion walker, Rob Heffernan, has described the meticulous dope-testing regime facing competitors - after almost 30 tests already this year. Ahead of his big event in just under a fortnight, the Cork man has been relaxing at home for a few days before flying out to Brazil next week. While he is happy to be tested regularly to prove his doping-free status to any sceptics, he complained about the disruptive nature of the testing system. "I've been tested 29 times this year. It's like the guards now, it's a statistic thing," he said in an interview with Neil Prendeville on Cork's RedFM. "I was out in Spain in a training camp for five weeks and they called three times at six in the morning - they called another two times at 11 at night when I was in bed at half-ten," he said.

A report in yesterday's Irish Examiner

In the summer of 2008, about a month before the Olympics in Beijing, the Irish Sports Council issued a press bulletin detailing plans for the athletics team. A paragraph on the opening page makes interesting reading: "Once again, Matsue, Japan, will be used as the preparation base having proved successful for the world championships in Osaka. Ireland's elite athletes will be joined in this excellent training camp by triathlete Emma Davies and mountain biker Robin Seymour. As per 2007, 20k World Championship silver medalist Paco Fernandez will join the camp as training partner to Rob Heffernan."

Paquillo Fernandez was 30 years old that year. A former World Junior Champion, and a double European champion, he was coached by the former Polish champion, Robert Korzeniowski, and had met Heffernan at a training camp a few years before.

Two fine performances at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka - second for Fernandez, sixth for Heffernan - cemented the friendship. It was the first major breakthrough for the Irishman and they were both hoping for better in Beijing, but they finished four seconds apart in seventh (Fernandez) and eighth place.

A year later, at the World Championships in Berlin, Olive Loughnane made headlines with a silver medal performance that would later be upgraded to gold, but there was bitter disappointment for the men. Fernandez, for so long the sport's next superstar, failed to finish: Heffernan raced better (15th) but, when home, he thought about quitting.

And then things got shitty.

Three months later, on November 26, it was reported that Spanish police had made several arrests during an anti-doping sting dubbed Operation Grial.

Walter Viru, a former cycling team doctor, was the focus of the investigation and was alleged to have couriered packages to a group that included Fernandez and Montserrat Pastor, a coach who had worked closely with Olive Loughnane.

The news caused ripples in Ireland: 'Racewalkers rocked by Fernandez doping scandal' was the headline the next day in the Irish Independent. There was no comment from Heffernan or Loughnane in the report by Cliona Foley, but Patsy McGonagle - the Athletics Ireland High Performance manager - was obviously concerned.

He stressed that while "the two athletes were both largely home-based and had only occasional contact with the Spaniards involved" they would be making "alternative coaching arrangements". A month later, in January 2010, it was reported that Loughnane was working with a new coach from Norway.

No charges were brought against Pastor, but for Fernandez it was the end of the road. After insisting initially that he had never worked with Viru, and had nothing to do with doping, he decided to co-operate with the police and was banned for two years for using the blood-boosting hormone EPO.

The only problem now was his shadow.

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In July 2012, on the eve of the London Olympics, the Irish Independent reported that Heffernan (pictured), Loughnane and Brendan Boyce were preparing for the Games at a training camp in Guadix, Spain - the home of Paco Fernandez.

"His doping ban is none of my business," Heffernan told Kim Bielenberg. "If he is around he is willing to offer advice, and I don't see a problem with that."

"There is no suggestion that any of the other walkers has had any involvement with the Spanish coach," Bielenberg noted. And that was true. But it was also true that Montserrat Pastor lived in Guadix and that Loughnane was working with her again.

"I went back to her in 2011," Loughnane says. "Chris Jones was doing all my programmes with me. 'Monsee' was doing the technical work. Herself and Paco, I know, had a huge falling out and she claimed she had been betrayed. I had nothing to do with Paco at the camp. I had never spoken to the guy since 2009 and have always distanced myself from him."

But Heffernan has no such qualms.

Last week, on these pages, he insisted to Cathal Dennehy: "Growing up, you read about somebody doping and you think 'fucking hang them, never let them back'. But when you know somebody personally, you see the human side. When people do something wrong, when they're your friends, you can't just leave them when they're down. I spoke to Paco and he said that he never doped, that the doctor was dodgy and he was implicated when the doctor sent a package to him, but he was always adamant to me that he never took drugs."

Heffernan is free, of course, to act and believe what he wants, and his loyalty to his friend is admirable. But there's a bigger picture here and he's not seeing it - and, until he does, I don't care. I don't care what he did in Moscow. I don't care what he does in Rio. I don't care about the sacrifices he has made or how hard he trains. I don't care.

And please, spare us all the constant whining about the dope controls. When you lie down with dogs you catch fleas.

Sunday Indo Sport

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