Wednesday 22 May 2019

Condemned man faces his lies but truth may not set him free

Dion Fanning

To borrow a line from Seinfeld, admitting the truth can be like trying to knock over a Coke machine: you might not get it done in one push.

If Lance Armstrong is, as some have concluded, a pathological liar then it would appear that surrendering to the most fundamental truths about himself is the only way he can be liberated from his condition. As somebody wise once said, it takes an honest man to admit he told a lie.

If Lance Armstrong was a man with a drinking problem rather than a man with a lying problem, he would now be at the stage where he is trying to control it.

Lance would be at that point where he is 'keeping an eye on his drinking'. Lance's interview with Oprah was the equivalent of drinking a pint of water after every five pints, sticking to wine, avoiding wine, staying off it for January, going back on it for February or whatever bullshit wheeze can be seized upon in these situations to postpone the inevitable.

Perhaps in time Lance will look back on his Oprah interview as the beginning of the process that ended with some liberation. If he is intent only on damage limitation, he will remain in denial about his inability to get honest about his dishonesty. Lance, you sense, wants to be talking to Oprah for the right reasons but he wants to be talking to her for the wrong reasons too.

He was going to embrace the truth wholeheartedly except for all those awkward moments when he wouldn't be. Armstrong said he was "no fan of the UCI" before saying nothing you wouldn't expect to be said by a fan of the UCI.

When he said that without his comeback, none of it would have unravelled, there was a tone of regret at his plight which contrasted with Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis's relief when they were released from their own compact with bullshit.

Lance said he rode clean in 2009 and cycling had got its act together, sounding like an establishment man rather than one who was engaging in a revolutionary act.

He finished third and he was just beaten by better guys in a race that was "very clean". Alberto Contador won it in 2009. Unfortunately in 2010, he had taken up doping and was stripped of his victory that year. Yet Lance had built an empire with this personality and it will be hard, if not impossible, for him to change.

So he gave the Coke machine a push but he didn't heave hard enough for most people. When Lance blames the culture of cycling, it isn't viewed as a condemnation of the sport's corruption, which it is, but as an attempt to justify his own behaviour, which it also is.

The reason the world wanted to watch an interview with Lance Armstrong is the same reason the world condemned him as a sociopath. There were moments of truth but the most memorable was not to do with the detail of his doping, the lives he had destroyed or the contradictions in his story.

Instead it was a glimpse into his personality which is no less complex or fascinating because he may be a bad man, a liar or a cheat.

Oprah asked if it was his nature to go on the attack when somebody did something he didn't like to him. She had barely even framed the follow-up question if this had always been his way when he spat, "My entire life, my entire life."

In David Walsh's compelling recent book Seven Deadly Sins, the co-author of his earlier book Pierre Ballester makes a fascinating point. "I have no respect for the way the majority in the media have dealt with this story. When Lance was winning, he was their friend the hero. They wouldn't say a bad word about him. Back then they were cowards and, as they kill him now, they're still behaving in a cowardly way. Burying Lance Armstrong now is too easy."

Understanding Lance Armstrong might be more difficult and Armstrong shut down at key moments which allowed those who were understandably angry, like Betsy Andreu, to be joined by the mob who just want something to be outraged by.

It was frustrating watching Oprah fail to ask follow-up questions at key moments over the past couple of nights. There was no mention of Christophe Bassons and Oprah seemed unaware that when Armstrong denied coercing team-mates to dope but talked of a "level of expectation", there was no way those expectations could be met without drugs.

Yet, apart from a couple of exceptions, sports journalists couldn't really claim to have asked any questions, let alone follow-up ones, of Lance when they had the opportunity.

You might want Walsh or Paul Kimmage instead of Oprah but the rest of us would have been sitting there laughing at his creepy and unempathetic jokes. "Ha, you didn't call her fat. Good one, dude."

Look back to last summer's Olympics and see how many questions were asked. There were plenty of stories that looked too good to be true but the legend was printed without question.

At the beginning of January, Benedetto Roberti gave an interview in which he said nothing has changed. Roberti is the Italian magistrate leading the Padua investigation into Lance's old friend Michele Ferrari. Roberti says there are new undetectable forms of EPO. He described one Chinese variation of EPO as "the Queen of the Games" at London 2012.

When journalists with proven track records are discouraged from asking questions in more recent times then Ballester is right that burying Armstrong is too easy, especially when it comes with the parallel idea that this is something to do with the ancient history of the sport.

Lance will probably give more interviews and write a book but he is still trying to control the outcome, even though he knows, as he said to Oprah, that he's powerless, especially over another pathology.

It takes an honest man to admit he told a lie but a crooked man can tell the truth every now and then.

The truth might set him free, as Oprah hoped, but it might take three to five in a federal penitentiary for Lance Armstrong to achieve that freedom.

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