• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Armstrong may have lost control of his story but others are running hard with it

He's back.

Lance Armstrong will polarise opinion forever.
Lance Armstrong will polarise opinion forever.

Ten months after withdrawing from public life, Lance Armstrong has emerged from the shadows with a shrewdly choreographed media offensive. The American was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and given a life-time ban from sport in 2012 before confessing to having doped throughout his career in January of this year. Then he went quiet.

Over the last 10 months, Armstrong has engaged in nothing more than sporadic email interviews, the world last having heard his voice in the now infamous Oprah Winfrey interview in which he made his confession to doping. Then, last week, in an exclusive interview with the BBC World Service, Armstrong gave his views on both the punishment handed down to him and the situation in which he finds himself. In short, he sought to paint himself as something of a victim, having been treated harshly in comparison to peers who also doped.

Many of the riders who competed alongside Armstrong, and who have subsequently admitted to having used banned drugs, were given reduced sentences in return for their co-operation with the anti-doping authorities. Armstrong was the only rider on whom a life-time ban was imposed.

He claims that he has been hard done by, that he has been singled out by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and that his punishment should be comparable to the other cyclists who committed similar offences. Armstrong complained that he has suffered "massive personal loss and massive loss of wealth" and that he has paid a heavy price for his misdemeanours, the like of which other dopers have not had to endure.

While it is true that he has been vilified in a manner unlike any other rider, this is a consequence of having been the most successful cyclist of the post-Festina era. Much of the public hatred directed towards Armstrong is not as a result of his drug-taking, though, but rather due to the bullying tactics he employed, particularly towards Betsy Andreu and soigneur Emma O'Reilly, which were truly despicable.

Armstrong proclaimed he is worried that the apparently never-ending attempts to resolve his case are damaging his sport, but this concern is disingenuous. Firstly, Armstrong was offered the chance to co-operate with USADA last year, before their reasoned decision was released; he declined. He was the only one of 11 riders who refused to co-operate.

The primary reason for Armstrong's re-emergence is that he had lost control of his story and wants it back. Throughout his career, he controlled the narrative completely, which is one of the reasons why he was able to dope, undetected, for so many years. Armstrong was a Machiavellian figure; he and his team were like juggernauts, destroying anyone who dared to speak out against him. He has lost that power.

This recent attempt to regain control of the narrative is not unexpected but is, most likely, doomed to failure. Much of the feedback to Armstrong's comments has been apathetic; many observers are bored of his continual and unabating refusal to accept responsibility for his actions and the damage that he caused to the sport and to people's lives.

Despite these protestations of boredom from many in the cycling community, though, the signs are that the wider world is far from sick of the sight of Armstrong. Earlier this month, The Armstrong Lie was released in America: a documentary initially planned to be the story of his 2009 comeback but which has ended up being an altogether different tale. It will be released in the UK in January. Also coming next year is the Untitled Cycling Project, a film starring Chris O'Dowd, which boasts David Millar as a consultant. These are not the only films in the pipeline, and there will be books released in the coming year too.

This deluge of Armstrong's story hardly indicates a dilution of public interest in him. Love him or hate him, there can be little dispute that Armstrong is a truly fascinating character. Unlike most doping cheats, Armstrong's story is not black and white. The vast majority of dopers are cast aside, labelled as lying, cheating malefactors, for whom the public has little patience. Not Armstrong. There are shades of grey in his story because he has done much good, which sets him apart from many of his doping predecessors.

A decade ago, Armstrong was perceived as a God-like figure, having survived cancer from a prognosis which estimated he had less than a 40% chance of living. So while his behaviour in the world of cycling is unforgivable, nothing can take away the fact he raised hundreds of millions of dollars for cancer charities and changed people's attitudes towards the disease.

There are, surely, many cancer survivors who feel grossly cheated now that they know the truth but there are others who were inspired by him and nothing will change that. Armstrong will polarise opinion forever. One thing is for sure: he will never disappear.

Contextual targeting label: 
Arts and Entertainment

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

195459