He had been referred to by the influential French newspaper L’Equipe as a ‘Fallen Godfather’, and as Lance Armstrong followed in the footsteps of dozens of disgraced public figures by agreeing to be interviewed on television by Oprah Winfrey last week, the lack of remorse and emotion he displayed on screen had all the hallmarks of a hoodlum’s courtroom confession.
Despite the limits that legal constraints obviously placed on the detail of some of the answers that Winfrey’s critics had hoped she could extract, Armstrong’s stony-eyed taciturnity over the minutiae of his crimes and the perfunctory acknowledgement of his victims was a lesson to any budding actor with aspirations of landing a starring role in HBO’s next drama series about organised crime. To the rest of the world, and in particular to those he trampled all over to perpetuate and mask his wrongdoings, it left the bitterest of tastes and removed all doubt surrounding his ignominious claim as professional sport’s biggest ever villain.
It was an interview that revealed more about the man than his methods and on reflection it was neither the time nor the place for the 41-year-old Texan to name the exact times and places where he indulged in the heinous practice of repeatedly pumping himself full of the performance-enhancing drugs that would see him win the Tour de France in 1999 and successfully defend the title six times. Armstrong’s legal team were clearly watching and he had clearly and understandably been briefed as to what he could and couldn’t say with the inevitable rash of court cases looming large on the horizon.
That Winfrey got Armstrong to admit to systematic and prolonged doping on camera and coaxed words like ‘cheat’, ‘liar’ and ‘bully’ out of his own mouth wasn’t enough for some, despite the admissions offering overdue vindication for some members of the media and finally laying to rest levels of speculation and debate that had taken up enough column inches to decorate the Great Wall of China over the last few years.
Winfrey’s reputation as America’s most influential interviewer hardly needed enhancing yet careful reflection brings about the conclusion that it probably has been, despite her not really having to work for it. While the two-part interview may have been short on detail, few will forget that it was in a hotel room at her prompting where Armstrong – wittingly or not – revealed the monstrousness of his personality to the world.
His apologies to two of the women that he hounded and defamed for daring to speak out against him were thin on both conviction and sincerity and those, alongside his revelation that he needed to look the word ‘cheating’ up in the dictionary to see if it applied to him, were particular low points.
But were we misguided to expect anything else? Tears from one of sport’s toughest and most defiant men – cheat or not – were always a remote possibility, and his brave survival of cancer will have acted as unwanted training for any crisis that life could subsequently throw at him. Indeed it was only when talking about the effect that this whole scandal has had on his family that his bottom lip started to quiver. But even the most hardened of crime bosses are sentimental about their own flesh and blood…
This column originally appeared in Cycling Plus Magazine
© Future Publishing/Mark Robinson 2013