Lance Armstrong – Sport’s Number 1 Villain (Picture This #24)

This weekend we have applauded the heroism and bravery of Orlando Cruz, who won his big fight last night. However, Pop Lifer strives for balance. And sneaking up behind every hero is, of course, a villain…….

Lance Armstrong in 2005 after his 7th Tour de France victory (courtesy of AFP).

Before the Olympics, Pop Lifer identified sport’s #1 pantomime villain; Ben Johnson. He of the dead eyes and lively bloody samples. More than anyone he almost brought sprint racing to its knees. Between Johnson’s fall in 1988 and Usain Bolt’s rise twenty years later, the 100m final in Seoul was the inescapable reference point for every 100m final in between.

Well, Canadian Ben can step aside, John Terry can stop his frankly feeble attempt to grab the crown, Ashley Cole can stop tweeting, and Mike Tyson can stop nibbling ears because Lance Armstrong is sport’s new, unchallenged, top villain.

And in Pop Lifer’s view this is a good thing.

Not because we have anything against road cycling (although Pop Lifer may never truly come to terms with Bradley Wiggins’ Paul Weller obsession) . Nor do we wish to debunk the sterling work Armstrong has done to raise cancer awareness. No, we are pleased for one simple reason. He is sport’s best villain ever, ever, ever…..

Part of why he is such a good villain is actually tied up to his cancer work. His fall starts from the moral high ground, the only real place that hubris should be allowed to begin its journey.  Obviously, subsequent revelations call into question the motivation behind this work. As much as we should probably resist this temptation to think that it was part of his cover – people are capable of doing good and bad things  – the thought will never be easily dispensed with (unlike the yellow wrist bands).

There are two main reasons why Armstrong is now sport’s alpha villain. The detail behind the villainy, painstakingly archived by USADA, which is mind-blowing. And secondly, the  vehemence of Armstrong’s denials which was less cat stroking, and more horse’s head in its menace.

The detail. Armstrong was at the heart of ‘sport’s most sophisticated doping program ever’, (though there maybe ex Stasi agents from East Germany willing to refute this). This program was extraordinarily well-drilled and contained in-race cross-border dashes, drop-offs in fast food car parks, toilet flushes of incriminating evidence, blood banks in hidden fridges, and the complicity of officials and media alike. It was all held together by the bought silence of a mixture of the manipulated, cajoled and presumably willing.

It is the word of these team mates however, rather than any blood samples, that has brought Armstrong down. He may never have failed a drugs test but the cross-examination of guilty souls threw up the positive that a select few in cycling were so keen to expose.

Paul Kimmage was one such pursuer of Armstrong. Apart from hiding behind of phalanx of support staff, lawyers and PR staff, Armstrong himself was quite prepared to get stuck in to those who questioned his achievements. And when he does, the eloquence, force and sheer aggression of Armstrong is impressive. The below exchange with Kimmage offers a glimpse at how Armstrong was able to persuade fellow cyclists and respected professionals to cheat and to remain silent on his behalf. George Hincapie, to Armstrong’s left in this clip, testified against Armstrong last week, effectively destroying any potential credibility to Armstrong’s frankly pathetic and continued denials.

If you wait to the final seconds of the clip, the sound you can hear is stomach churning sycophancy.

If his indignation is startling, the sheer front is even more astounding. The final word belongs to Armstrong himself because with it, his legacy is both amplified and hollowed simultaneously. As a sportsman, he cheated with breath-taking arrogance. As a villain, his legacy will endure. This is Armstrong, on the Champs Elysees after securing his 7th Tour de France. A race he came first in but didn’t win.

“Finally, the last thing I’ll say to the people who don’t believe… the cynics and the sceptics  I’m sorry for you. I’m sorry that you can’t dream big. I’m sorry you don’t believe in miracles. ….there are no secrets — this is a hard sporting event and hard work wins it. So Vive le Tour forever!”


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