Lance and the lies of silence
THE eagerly awaited showdown with Oprah was chilling in what it revealed and disturbing in what it did not.
Lance Armstrong's (inset) "confession" should have taken place in front of "a man with a badge and a gun", to use his phrase, rather than a hotel room in Texas where he could keep his lies intact.
"This story was so perfect for so long," he told the world as Livestrong gave way to Live TV. "It was a mythic, perfect story – and it wasn't true."
Like a movie director contemplating his own ruined narrative, Armstrong invited us to believe the holy light of truth had broken in. But that was not what this toe-curler was all about. The deceit goes on.
In the early hours of this morning, night owls will have seen Armstrong talk about the "$75m day" when his sponsors ran for the hills, the disastrous effect on his cancer charity – Livestrong – his 13-year-old son defending him, and the distress inflicted on his mother.
Before we reached that point, we heard final confirmation of cycling's dirty secret. Armstrong said: "There will be people that say, 'OK, there are 200 guys on the Tour, I can tell you five that didn't (dope), and those are the five heroes', and they're right."
To Lance, EPO, testosterone and human growth hormone were "like saying we have to have air in our tyres. That was, in my view, part of the job".
Today's cyclists, with their biological passports and zero-tolerance contracts, are bound to squirm at Armstrong's depiction of a "level playing field" of cheating. For sure this has been a great global moment of exposure to compare with other historic umaskings. The "mafia" the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) report talked about has been busted.
The gulf between the confected celebrity life and the debased reality has never been so vast in sport.
A self-confessed "bully" of infinite calculation, Armstrong told the world he knew he was in big trouble when the feds began a Department of Justice investigation into his drug use, but he relaxed again when the case was dropped. "I thought I was out of the woods." he told Winfrey. The fall of the world's 'greatest' cyclist is surely one for the cops and prosecutors, not the stuff of light entertainment.
His partial mea culpa was compelling for reasons he did not intend. It showed him sticking to the lie that he raced clean in 2009 and 2010 in his comeback phase.
"The evidence from USADA is that Armstrong's blood tests show... with absolute certainty he was doping after 2005," John Fahey, head of the World Anti- Doping Agency, responded. "Believe USADA or believe Armstrong? I know who to believe."
The most damning aspect is his insistence that he stopped cheating eight years ago when USADA shows otherwise. "The last time I crossed that line was 2005," he told Winfrey. "Does that include blood transfusions? No doping or blood transfusions in 2009, 2010?" Winfrey asked. "Absolutely not," Armstrong replied.
With careful choreography, and a reduction in his ban, Armstrong will probably replenish his bank accounts. The future is less clear for those he impugned, vilified and sued for libel and slander. Among Winfrey's best questions was: "Suing people and you know they're telling the truth. What is that?"
Significantly, Armstrong started to smile or giggle in parts of the inquisition but then stopped himself. Lance was trying to stay in the saddle. It was not hard to detect a deeply sadistic streak, a nature that has detached itself from reality. Had he not sued Emma O'Reilly, the whistleblower masseuse? Armstrong's answer: "Oprah, we sued so many people I don't even (know). I'm sure we did."
With the choreography of remorse comes an offer to help. The burglar goes back into the house to clean up. The person who defiled the sport poses as its saviour. The reward: a reduced sentence. So Armstrong said: "I love cycling and I say that knowing that people see me as someone who disrespected the sport. If there was a truth and reconciliation commission and I'm invited, I'll be first man through the door."
Thus "one big lie" has become one big self-preservation exercise. But there is no getting away from his podium speech in Paris after his seventh Tour win: "To the cynics and the sceptics – I feel sorry for you that you can't dream big – and I'm sorry you can't believe in miracles."
Calling those who challenged him "crazy" or a "whore" or "a bitch" was Armstrong's modus operandi.
And there was no better insight into his psyche than what he said of Betsy Andreu: "I did not call her fat." (©Daily Telegraph, London)