Tuesday 12 December 2017

Blowing whistle on Lance nearly destroyed my life


Irish physio who exposed 'the most sophisticated doping scam ever' talks to Sunday Independent

Dublin woman Emma O'Reilly came to play a central role in Lance Armstrong's drug taking, acting as a courier to pick up performance enhancers and even supplying make-up to hide needle marks on his arms. And in her role as Armstrong's personal masseuse and assistant looking after his every need in his professional life, she also became Armstrong's friend.

But when she finally lifted the lid on doping in professional cycling, assisting journalist David Walsh with the book LA Confidential, Armstrong lashed out and branded her a "prostitute and and alcoholic".

Now as Armstrong's reputation lies in tatters after the United States Anti-Doping Agency (Usada) published a report into years of drug taking at Armstrong's United States Postal Service team, Ms O'Reilly, who left Tallaght to embark on a career in physiotherapy in cycling, at last feels vindicated.

The dossier described the team as running "the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen" and the 1,000-page report, including evidence by Ms O'Reilly, sets out its case against Armstrong depicting the seven-time Tour de France winner, US national hero and cancer survivor as a bully who coerced his team-mates into using drugs and a cheat.

But in an exclusive interview with the Sunday Independent she says that blowing the whistle on Armstrong nearly destroyed her life.

"I felt kind of threatened from every angle, you're potentially facing being made bankrupt and your reputation being torn to shreds . . . and yet Lance Armstrong could sit there at a press conference when he announced the Discovery (Channel) sponsorship and malign me saying: 'Well yeah, we had dealings with her, yeah she had to go because of you know . . .' I thought, 'Lance, you scum. you know that I handed in my notice and you know what you did'."

Asked if there was coercion involved in her assisting in the team's doping programme, she said: "There was and there wasn't. If anything I was incredibly fond of Lance. There was a funny side to him and he had a good sense of humour and I was working very closely with him and yet I was never helping him with a very important part of his training. So it wasn't coercion.

"I decided to do it. It was more me feeling bad that I wasn't helping him as much as I could. Really and truthfully he kind of let me stay out of the drugs for a long time given the amount of contact we had.

"In hindsight, I can see he really respected my decision to stay out of the (drug) programme.

"I was spending 100 days a year with him, and when I say 'with him' it was very intense. You are in the hotel with him. We do dinners and then you spend 40 minutes to an hour together while I was doing the massage and stuff like that.

"Your job is to look after the riders. It's a very close relationship. So it got to the stage where I was thinking 'well I get you the breakfast cereal you want but the doping programme is more important than the breakfast cereal'."

The Usada report details a number of incidents in which Ms O'Reilly assisted in the drug taking at US Postal. One excerpt reads: "Emma O'Reilly was in the room giving Armstrong a massage when Armstrong and team officials fabricated a story to cover the positive test. Armstrong and the team officials agreed to have Dr del Moral backdate a prescription for cortisone cream for Armstrong which they would claim had been prescribed in advance of the tour to treat a saddle sore.

"O'Reilly understood from Armstrong, however, that the positive had not come from a topical cream but had really come about from a cortisone injection Armstrong received around the time of the Route du Sud a few weeks earlier. After the meeting between Armstrong and the team officials concluded, Armstrong told O'Reilly, 'Now, Emma, you know enough to bring me down'." The report also details road trips she made to pick up the banned drugs.

"I liked him. He was as tough as nails. Mentally he was the toughest person I have every come across and I loved his attention to detail and I loved the fact that he looked into absolutely everything. In a sense he took complete responsibility for his life and where it went.

See Paul Kimmage Sport Page 9

"I suppose in one way Lance was a dreamer, perhaps the biggest dreamer of all. He tried to make his dreams come true. We did get on well and I was incredibly fond of him and he was good to me."

Now, though, she feels no regret about his downfall.

"I don't feel sorry for him. You don't feel sorry for Lance. I don't mean that in an awful way. Yes, he has a whole heap of problems now, but he will find a way. He will look for a solution.

"I think he isn't a happy camper at the moment and I am glad I am on a different continent but he will get on with things. That's the way he is. He is not a victim. He doesn't lie down and play dead."

She says the importance of the Usada report is that Armstrong is not the only person who has been taken down.

"Johan (Bruyneel, Armstrong's former manager) has been taken down, three doctors, Pepe the courier has been taken down, and that is one of the reasons why I spoke to Usada. I thought: 'right they are not just going against Lance and the other big cyclists they are going after the others'," she said.

"To me Lance was never the problem, David Millar was never the problem. The riders, to me, were the victims. They were purely the symptom of this massive problem that the sports directors and the doctors were perpetrating on them. The doctors have the responsibility for the health of the riders on their shoulders.

"That's what I had a huge problem with. I was polite to the doctors but I always kept my distance from them. I could never reconcile that these guys had gone to college, taken the Hippocratic oath.

"Fine these lads (cyclists) are making decisions to go on the programme but that was what it was like in the Nineties. You went in the (drugs) programme or you went and looked for another job. If you were not on the programme you were getting your arse handed to you day in day out by riders who you knew were not as good as you."

She denies that the primary motivation for her role in persuading Customs officers not to carry out a search of team cars as they arrived in Dublin for the start of the 1998 Tour de France was to stop them finding drugs. She says the main reason was the disruption of carrying out a search at two in the morning when it was clear there wasn't enough personnel to do the job quickly.

"When they said they were Customs I said: 'There's not enough of you.' I was thinking it's very late. Everybody was tired and nervous and anxious and the ferry was already an hour late. I said to the Customs: 'Lads you are going to have a riot on your hands if you start stripping down trucks now. The trucks were jammed with three weeks of stuff for the whole tour.'

"I knew obviously there would be stuff on the trucks (drugs) but definitely the main reason was that I was trying to explain to the customs that they had never met or dealt with a crowd of grumpy and angry mechanics from Belgium and France."

Sunday Independent

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