TONY Greig, Christopher Martin-Jenkins, Geoff McClure, Simon Townley. Some of these names will be familiar, some less so. They have in common long careers in sporting media, and decency, and that they were taken in the recent past, and too soon, by cancer.
”Taken” seems inadequate, a euphemism. But to my mind, it is better than to say that they lost their battles, with the implication that somehow they were not quite up to the task.
Is Test cricketer Simon O’Donnell, who was found to have non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at 24 and is still with us a quarter of a century later, more of a fighter than Cronulla Sharks rugby league player Jon Mannah, who died on Friday of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, aged 23? Did one lose, and one win?
Having had a brush with the same cancer as Lance Armstrong’s at the same age, I have a distant, but viscerally strong outlook on these matters, and I don’t for a moment accept the win/lose dichotomy. I think that in all these instances the disease ran its course, proving in some instances to be susceptible to a range of treatments and in others not.
The essence of the Armstrong story is that after recovering from testicular cancer at 25, he gathered himself up to win seven Tour de France titles. By sheer, uncompromising strength of mind, he beat cancer, then beat the lycra pants off everyone else on the bike.
In the Oprah interview on Friday, he broached the idea that it was the fighting spirit he developed to combat cancer that drove him on the bike. These themes were combined in the Livestrong foundation.
The foundation was and is real enough, but the rationale for it is now proven to be a chimera. Good on Armstrong for outliving testicular cancer. But 95 per cent of victims of that cancer do. As for the bike races, we now know that they were at least as much about strength of concoction as strength of mind. The common theme, bizarrely enough, was the power of drugs.
Perversely, now that Armstrong has come clean, some lasting good might ensue. Through Livestrong, Armstrong putatively inspired thousands of cancer sufferers. Those who survived and the families and friends of those who did not now know that this seeming force for good was only ever a placebo.
They all did what they could – medically, mentally, spiritually – and in some instances it worked and in some it did not. The survivors might even choose to think that they won – that is their right – but the loved ones of those who died need not think that they lost, and certainly not that they somehow failed to live up to the Armstrong ideal, because it was a fake anyway.
Yes, we can be grateful for the good Livestrong did and does, but now it can be seen more surely than ever to be incidental. Nothing ever can mitigate this central truth about the Armstrong story, and if anything, the first part of the Oprah interview served only to reinforce it, melodramatically.
Great sportsmen and women ask us to take them on trust. The question is only ever implicit, which can make for a fraught relationship; Shane Warne, for instance, probably feels he was held to a promise of virtue that he never made, and Tiger Woods to a pledge that was made for him. Only Roger Federer seems to keep an impossible faith.
But Armstrong is different. He did not just ask to be taken on trust, he demanded, loudly, menacingly, shrilly, repeatedly. He bullied others into preserving that trust. He hurt them, and says only now does he realise how much.
He lied for that trust, in sworn testimony, on the winner’s podium at the Tour de France, in dozens of depositions. He’s lying still; he says that until recently, he did not understand the scale of the wrong he was doing, which is impossible to credit.
He sued for that trust, so many times that he admitted to Oprah he could not count them. On the day he gave up the fight against USADA, through his lawyer he threatened anyone who would interpret that as an admission of guilt.
Armstrong had never honoured that trust, and had profited handsomely from the brazen breach of it, and even when it was all over flaunted his betrayal by tweeting a photo of himself reclining before his seven Tour de France yellow jerseys, and would have concealed it forever if he could, and yet still to the end he wanted to browbeat us to trust in him.
It is this brazen cold-bloodedness, despite the EPO, that to my mind sets him apart from other sporting frauds. When he brought himself to apologise to staff at Livestrong last week, reportedly it was not for causing them to live his lie, but for media intrusion! Whatever he hoped to achieve by turning up on Oprah – understanding? absolution? remittance of his ban? – he won’t get it this way. For once, he has miscalculated.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.