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Krey20

Seven Deadly Sins: My pursuit of Lance Armstrong

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I guess, in a round about way, my recent reading spluge on pro cycling related books has been leading up to this title. I followed the Lance Armstrong USADA investigation and his eventual (if belated) admission with great interest, yet strangely I did follow the sport all that closely during Armstrong's dominance. I have simply know the rough outline of his legend. Cancer survivor, seven time winner of the Tour de France, what's not to admire? What's not to love? It's the mixture of real life drama and sporting excellence that all great stories are made of... I never knew how dark the story actually was. It would seem there is an awful lot of dirty work that has to be done in the background to sell such a legend.

 

David Walsh was never a believer in the Armstrong myth, he was one of the few journalists that hounded the cyclist throughout his dominant years, at no little cost to his professional and private life. In this book he spins a narrative from the very beginning of his love for the sport of cycling (and sport in general) to the moments that the curtain was drawn back for him regarding performance enhancing drug use. From that time he was a force to feret out the cheats. Walsh tells of his first meeting with a young Armstrong before his very first tour through how he was treated by the 'Armstrong Camp' throughout his constant questioning and disbelief of what was happening.

 

It's a tough story to tell, because there is no doubt Walsh must feel vindicated after over a decade of people refusing to belive his stories. Yet the narrative is never smug, it never has the tone of a man that wants to preach 'I told you so.' It's written more with a sense of relief.

 

The stages and complexity of the Armstrong doping system is quite eye-opening. Armstrong and his 'team' do not get painted in a good light, they are shown to be bullies in the grandest sense. Threatening (and actually following through in some cases) to ruin people's lives to protect the intergrity of his legend.

 

Even after all of the cycling books I have read leading up to this one, I was caught out with a few surprises and stories I hadn't known. Walsh does a good job of bringning together over 20 years of his career (and life) into a book that sums up his struggle to reveal the truth. Not only reveal it, however, but to have that truth believed.

He is humble enough to point out some of his own flaws, especially regarding how he treated some of his sources, but their stories are what make the whole thing so fascinating.

 

I would reccomend this book to anyone with a passing interest in cycling, and anyone who accepting Armstrong's achievements at the time without a questioning glance. Walsh's description of the Opera interview is worth a read on it's own, as is the section that suggests Armstrong's cancer could have been casued by his drug use in the first place... There are also huge questions that implicate how lax the bodies that test and run cycling have been for decades.

 

On a side note, walsh has written a few books in the past regarding Armstrong (before the admission), I'm told by others, there is a lot of repitiion in this tome, but it is the most up to date.

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I haven't read the book, and I won't because life's too short. But to address the wider issue of vilifying Lance Armstrong, I wonder what is the point. Sure, he used prohibited drugs. But so too, I suspect, did all his rivals. Some sports were rife with drugs, including cycling, swimming and short distance running. A few unlucky ones got caught - usually when the testing technology upgraded or they made a stupid mistake (c.f. Ben Jonson reinjecting contaminated blood; Lindford Christie imagining that people wouldn't test veterans). But the chapmions would not have won had they not taken banned substances because they were competing against others who had. Going back and stripping titles just means taking the medal off one drugs cheat and giving it to another one. And of course Lance Armstrong and his retinue were secretive and aggressive - they had to be.

 

More interesting is the question of sports' governing bodies. Many sports must have known how big the problem was, and they had a balancing act to perform between catching the odd cheat here and there whilst not exposing the entire sport as depending on cheating. Catching too many or too few cheats would have undermined the credibility. And sport is largely about bums on seats. You need paying spectators to turn up; you need sponsors handing out money; and you need customers to buy the products the athletes promote. At an individual level, this creates a big incentive to win at any cost. But at a governance level, it creates a big incentive not to slay the goose that lays the golden eggs.  

 

When a sport is exposed as being rife with drugs (e.g. weightlifting 20 years ago) the governing body may actually try to do something about it. But then only because their credibility is already shot to smithereens and there are no longer any big bucks to lose.

 

Meanwhile, we the public like our heroes. We like the rags to riches story of FloJo, we like clean cut Carl Lewis, we like plucky Brits like Steve Ovett, Seb Coe and Steve Cram, we like bronzed adonises like the Thorpedo. Of course, there is no evidence that any of them has ever cheated, but if they had, would we actually want to unmask them as drug cheats?

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You make some excellent points, and I have come to the same conclusion after reading a few books into the drug culture of pro cycling. It is the negligence of the governing body that has allowed the culture of cheating to flourish, and in fact be a nessecity to those sportspeople that wanted to excel. It is a strange situation where young people grow up with the aspiration of wanting to be a pro cyclist, and they are eventuallly faced with teh choice between cheating to achieve their dreams of giving up on them. This is why a writer called Paul Kimmage is so outspoken on the subject. He was part of the professional peleton for a few years as a clean rider before having to leave the sport because he couldn't compete and refused to take drugs.

 

The UCI has a lot to answer for, and this book hints at the troubles, double standards and special treatments it gave it's 'golden goose' Armstrong during the time of his dominance. The body will probably never have to answer for it's past transgressions. However, with the recent election of a new UCI president (the man that has overseen the recent boom in British cycling) maybe there is hope of a new culture to be nurtured?

To enjoy sport you have to take the leap of faith that it is a level playing field, and that it is fair.

 

The only issue I take with Armstrong is this. Yes, most of the peleton were cheating, but Armstrong took it to a whole other level. He was cheating beyond the norm, he looked for each and every way to improve his performance. The most reprehensible revelations to me were not actually relating to the drugs he took, or his 'cheating' it was the tactics threats and actions he took to cover his tracks, the lives he tried to ruin and the people he hurt. I find that far more offensive. It's not that he cheated, it's that he built a huge legend on top of achievements that were false and this is a result of the monetary rewards (corporate sponsorship etc), not the prestige of winning.

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I haven't read the book, and I won't because life's too short. But to address the wider issue of vilifying Lance Armstrong, I wonder what is the point. Sure, he used prohibited drugs. But so too, I suspect, did all his rivals. Some sports were rife with drugs, including cycling, swimming and short distance running. A few unlucky ones got caught - usually when the testing technology upgraded or they made a stupid mistake (c.f. Ben Jonson reinjecting contaminated blood; Lindford Christie imagining that people wouldn't test veterans). But the chapmions would not have won had they not taken banned substances because they were competing against others who had. Going back and stripping titles just means taking the medal off one drugs cheat and giving it to another one. And of course Lance Armstrong and his retinue were secretive and aggressive - they had to be.

but then again, not everyone could afford the same programme as lance armstrong. indeed, it has been said of armstrongs' teammates floyd landis and tyler hamilton (i think krey has a book review of his book here) that if they had the same doping programme (they both had doping programmes of course) as armstrong, they would have beaten armstrong. i find the argument from athletes "everyone else is doing it" to be a sociopath's argument in that they are trying to justify to themselves that what they are doing is ok because everyone else is doing it.

 

 

and then there is the bullying nature of armstrong as seen with the witness intimidation of levi leipheimer and his wife (threatening text messages), fillippo simeoni in the tour de france in 2005 i think.(to which the cycling press was mostly supportive of bullying simeoni when armstrong claimed "he was protecting the interests of the peloton.") and please don't get me started on emma o'reilly (calling her a prostitute, slut).

 

there are many other examples.

 

The UCI has a lot to answer for, and this book hints at the troubles, double standards and special treatments it gave it's 'golden goose' Armstrong during the time of his dominance. The body will probably never have to answer for it's past transgressions. However, with the recent election of a new UCI president (the man that has overseen the recent boom in British cycling) maybe there is hope of a new culture to be nurtured?

To enjoy sport you have to take the leap of faith that it is a level playing field, and that it is fair.

one person i know has concerns about mr. cookson but he can't be worse than pat mcquaid. though, the most positive thing about cookson has been the emphasis placed by him on womens cycling which is positive.

 

it also seems apt to bump this, lets call it some cycling fan fiction :Dhttp://www.bookgrouponline.com/topic/4178-somethings-ive-written-short-stories-fake-interviews-a-picture-i-drew/?p=89526

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but then again, not everyone could afford the same programme as lance armstrong. indeed, it has been said of armstrongs' teammates floyd landis and tyler hamilton (i think krey has a book review of his book here) that if they had the same doping programme (they both had doping programmes of course) as armstrong, they would have beaten armstrong. i find the argument from athletes "everyone else is doing it" to be a sociopath's argument in that they are trying to justify to themselves that what they are doing is ok because everyone else is doing it.

 

But isn't that akin to criticising Armstrong simply because he was more successful than other cheats? In any case, the distinction between an acceptable medical supplement and an illegal performance enhancing drug is very arbitrary, yet it is portrayed to the public in terms of black and white - doing A is perfectly natural and allows an athlete to perform to his or her full potential but doing B is artificial and gives an athlete an unfair advantage.

 

The argument about everyone else doing it is interesting. No, it does not make it right for any individual to join the herd and break the rules. But if the cheating is so widespread that it is impossible to compete without cheating, then there's also no point in trying to compete whilst clean. And as long as the public still wants to see champions in the sport, the sport has little option but to turn a blind eye. If they ever tried to clean themselves up, they'd expose the depth of the cheating and nobody would be interested in the sport any more. 

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But isn't that akin to criticising Armstrong simply because he was more successful than other cheats?

per http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/usada-lance-armstrong-paid-ferrari-more-than-dollar-1-million armstrong paid over $1 million personally to dr ferrari.

 

in comparison, the staff and rider salaries at team sky for 2011 was £11 million. http://inrng.com/2012/08/team-sky-budget-accounts/

 

basically, not everyone could afford the doping programme of armstrong personally and the us postal team/discovery channel/radioshack team

 

 

In any case, the distinction between an acceptable medical supplement and an illegal performance enhancing drug is very arbitrary, yet it is portrayed to the public in terms of black and white - doing A is perfectly natural and allows an athlete to perform to his or her full potential but doing B is artificial and gives an athlete an unfair advantage.

well with therapeutic use exemptions for people with a doctors note, some medical products are allowale. of course the question of where to draw the line will always be there but do we want it where anything goes? absolutely not, the line has to be somewhere so that when people are caught, they have little or no room to wriggle out of the charges.

 

of course there are dissapointing cases were riders have been wrongly arrested. what would be the response if a top level soccer player was taken from a world cup match in a police car, charged with doping and then 8 months later quietly have the charges dropped as the "doping" products he had were in fact vitamins? i think there would be uproar but for a cyclist with remy di gregorio, nothing happens.

 

and of course there are failings in the system, transfusing yourself with other peoples blood will give a positive test but transfusing yourself with your own blood will not (unless you were using testosterone or epo at the time you originally took out your blood, but these give a positive test for the actual substance, not the blood transfusion)

 

But if the cheating is so widespread that it is impossible to compete without cheating, then there's also no point in trying to compete whilst clean.

i am reminded of a quote from the author Nadeem Aslam

 

“Despair has to be earned,” he says. “If you say Pakistan is a failed state, or Pakistan is really bad, or the entire world is hopeless, I want to see the record of how you tried to change those things. I want to see that you tried it once, you tried it 10 times, you tried it a hundred times, you tried it a thousand times. If, having tried so many times, you fail – well, I might be slightly sympathetic. The fact of the matter is, if you are someone who has been trying all of his or her life, and has been beaten down by the various systems of the world, you would never say that the world is unsalvageable.

 

“You would say, ‘Let me try one more time’.”

source: the irish times.

 

if doping was as widespread as it was, chris horner wouldn't have won this years vuelta. sure the chris horner thing has given doubts about how successful the drug testing is as no news yet of a positive for him is out but there would be someone able to have beaten him if the person was doped.

 

And as long as the public still wants to see champions in the sport, the sport has little option but to turn a blind eye. If they ever tried to clean themselves up, they'd expose the depth of the cheating and nobody would be interested in the sport any more.

i don't know. the vuelta with chris horner lefted alot of people feeling unease about the sport and i think under the big followers has hurt the sport.

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per http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/usada-lance-armstrong-paid-ferrari-more-than-dollar-1-million armstrong paid over $1 million personally to dr ferrari.

 

in comparison, the staff and rider salaries at team sky for 2011 was £11 million. http://inrng.com/2012/08/team-sky-budget-accounts/

 

basically, not everyone could afford the doping programme of armstrong personally and the us postal team/discovery channel/radioshack team.

 

By all means criticise the concept of doping, but the criticism that only Armstrong and his team could afford it is a red herring. There are many examples in sport where money is an advantage. If you have enough money, you can hire a personal trainer. You can have Adidas trainers. You can hire a dietician. You can give up your job. You can go altitude training in the Andes. You can afford to eat wagyu steak morning noon and night. You can fly around the world competing. Rich athletes with huge sponsorship deals will always have an advantage over subsistence farmers from developing nations when it comes to achieving their sporting potential. Banning some innovations simply because they are expensive and some people won't be able to afford them is futile - the rich will simply find another way to buy advantages.

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