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Lance Armstrong liked to play the long game. David Walsh has played even longer, and won

Posted on 20 January 2013 | 12:01pm

I don’t recall exactly where and when it was that I met journalist David Walsh, not long after I had met Lance Armstrong for the first time, but I do recall his shock tinged with anger that I had ‘fallen for the Armstrong lies.’ I think it was at a football match.

Indeed I had fallen for the Armstrong story which even he now admits was founded on cheating and then lying about the cheating. I said something to Walsh along the lines of speaking as I find, that I was doing a series for the Times on great sportsmen and women, not devoting a career to investigating Armstrong, and that yes, I did find him convincing when he described the kind of drug testing he had endured for years, the hatred the French authorities had for him, the defiance that his success was built on training harder, focusing more, making sure he had the best people around him. The political campaigner in me also identified with, and was persuaded by, his observation, when I asked which he feared most – defeat to Jan Ullrich or death by cancer – that losing and dying are ‘the same thing.’ I saw in that his determination. Perhaps I should have been more open to the possibility that it meant he would literally do anything required to win.

I only watched the first half of the Oprah Winfrey interview. Once Armstrong’s ‘yes’ answers were delivered to the yes or no doping questions, as a journalistic endeavour it went a little downhill, but when he was back in denial mode, the denials were expressed in exactly the same way, and with the same conviction, as when I met him at his training base in Spain several years ago, and later for a TV interview in Belgium. He was right to point out that he was not the most believable guy in the world right now.

What I didn’t tell David Walsh, and didn’t include in the piece I wrote, was the venom with which Armstrong expressed his loathing for the Sunday Times reporter. It would not have been news to the journalist, and perhaps I instinctively sided with Armstrong because I knew a thing or two about being on the wrong end of media lies. But whereas on the accusations levelled at me, I can defend myself because I know the truth, I can certainly admit to David Walsh that he was right and I was wrong.

The reason Armstrong was able to live his lie so long was because so many people wanted it to be true. Partly it was the cancer survival story. But it was also the desire people have to celebrate specialness in sport. There were few more special sights than seeing Armstrong rip apart a field on a mountain stage of the Tour de France.

That Bradley Wiggins won it riding more slowly than Armstrong and other since banned riders underlines, I hope, that the pro sport has begun to sort itself out, and British Cycling can claim a lot of credit for that. But for all the bad Armstrong has done, those riding at the top of the sport now also know that the profile and income the sport generates has a bit to do with the Armstrong legend too. As to where his story goes now, who knows? The Oprah chat was a chapter, not the book. He will hope it is the first step to redemption, but he knows he is a long way from that. Others will hope it paves the way for lawsuits, return of vast earnings, not to mention fraudulently obtained libel case gains.

The horror for Lance, a control freak, is that he knows he is very limited in what he can do to control the outcomes.

As for David Walsh, he deserves every accolade that comes his way.

  • http://twitter.com/neilwelsh Neil Welsh

    I think the resilience David Walsh and Paul Kimmage have shown is incredible.
    I too was a ‘believer’ and bought into the Armstrong lie, wristband and all. Having said that I guess the blinkers were on because as is often said, when something looks to good to be true, it usually is.
    The sport is in a better place now and regardless of what Armstrong now says or does I believe his life-ban from all competition should remain.

  • http://www.patrickjames.co.uk/ Patrick James

    I do feel a bit sorry for Lance Armstrong and other sports figures who have taken drugs of various sorts to improve their performance. I think they are victims of the excessive competitiveness which has become the norm in sport.

    It is so much better to be happy with not winning. You can still be a great competitor, have fun, enjoy sport and not win.

    I never win at any sporting activity the closest I came was one time when I came second in a ten pin bowling competition.

  • Anonymous

    So Alastair Campbell doesn’t like liars eh? No this is not some cheap shot about the Iraq war, I don’t really have a position on that, if I was gambling I might say that when it kicks off all over north africa, the middle east, and on our own doorstep, in a few years time we might be saying that Blair and Bush were right to go in hard, and that those who opposed them were the latter day Neville Chamberlains.
    No, my issue is this. Of all the fallacies that came out of the last official labour government (I consider Cameron and Osborne to be an unofficial continuation of that government), that they didn’t borrow too much etc there is one that winds me up more than any other. The background is them calling the crisis a “global” financial crisis, to absolve themselves from blame, when they are as guilty as sin, they neutered the bank of England, they hated Keynes in good times and ran deficits contrary to his advice, then in bad times claimed to be Keynesians, they had low interest rates at the height of a boom, and of course they impoverished poor taxpayers to bail out rich bankers. But the thing I can’t stand is this, when they say “No one saw it coming!” This is a blatant lie. Almost countless economists saw it coming. They wrote books about it. They gave talks. They were on the news. It is there in black and white.
    Campbell / Labour: You can say that the consensus of economists did not think there would be a crash. But not all of them. You cannot say “No one saw it coming.” I won’t vote labour again till they own up to this, or till those who peddle that myth are rooted from the party. Liars.

  • http://twitter.com/PaddyBriggs Paddy Briggs

    Characteristic honesty from Alastair. I think that his “I take as I find” position on most things is admirable and it’s one I share. But sometimes our heroes are shown to be made of rather less honourable material than we would wish to believe. And sometimes, as with Armstrong, they emerge as villians not heroes at all. Investigative journalism is hard graft and David Walsh had many obstacles put in his way in the pursuit of truth. It is hugely to his credit that he persevered and I’m delighted his efforts have been totally vindicated.

  • Anonymous

    Rugby went through a very bad patch with drug use. Italy football too, when drugs were used to able players to play with niggling injuries, with suspicious deaths some claim was due to the use of. Beta blockers use in golf and snooker too, to steady nerves, and prevent the shakes.

    But cycling has been more incidiously infected by such use, it seems, and attempts to remove it from the sport have been adject failures. This has gone back years, since the days of Tommy Simpson with his death on the ’67 Tour de France,

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Simpson

  • Anonymous

    There is a lot coming to light these days in the wool pulled over eyes department, and I am not talking about cycling and sport. Just hold on to something firm, sounds as if it will come to light within the next few weeks.

  • Dave Simons

    I don’t think the Labour Party was exactly alone in referring to a ‘global’ financial crisis, though I am prepared to concede that it might not have caused much of a ripple on Tonga – you’ll correct me if I’m wrong on that last point? I also don’t remember anyone in the Labour Party who ‘hated’ Keynes at any time. They might have disagreed with him on some points but that’s not the same as hating him.
    Of course there were people who saw it coming. The Workers’ Revolutionary Party and its previous incarnations have been banging on about the crisis of capitalism ever since Trotsky was assassinated. And there were more credible voices, but then there do always tend to be, though they’re certainly never ‘countless’.
    You don’t do your own obviously embittered case any good by this kind of splenetic tirade, with its exaggerations, insults and penultimate ‘I won’t vote Labour again till…’
    If you think Cameron/Osborne represent a continuation of New Labour I suggest you’re easily fooled by appearances.

  • http://twitter.com/Janiete Janet Edwards

    Well said Dave!

  • Anonymous

    And Alastair, say no more, ey?

    Proper family men became thin on the ground, ey Alastair, driving ones other nuts?

    Was in the armed forces in the eighties and nineties, but due to it not being mind concerntrated WWII, felt as if I had to watch out for my pretty welsh arseface, with certain officers about.

  • Anonymous

    Tonga? Christ, you have lost me now.

    Dave S – money is a tool for people, not the other way around, you silly billy.

  • Dave Simons

    You’ll be hearing about Tonga when our grovelling media start hitting us with the 60th anniversary of the Coronation in June! Aren’t all Capricorns silly billies, yourself included? I agree that money is a tool for people but I’m not sure what I said that made you think I thought otherwise.

  • Anonymous

    Dave, I have books on my bookshelf behind me, written from 2004 onwards, as well as videos on my favourites, from 2005 onwards, predicting exactly what happened. Now the consensus disagreed and you could say that Brown etc only followed the consensus, I am just pointing out that they cannot say “no one saw this coming.”
    Socialists and communists as you refer to may have predicted the death of capitalism. Just a few problems. This crisis was very definitely not capitalist! Assistance for homeowners, banks and builders, low interest rates and bailout guarantees are not capitalist.

    And it is one thing to say “I foresee the end of capitalism at some unspecified point in the future” and then wait around for 150 years expecting it to happen, and then find out that of course it hasn’t happened (is capitalism dead Dave? Really?)
    And another entirely to say “based on the interest rates, and the prices of houses compared with historical rates, the value of the dollar/pound compared to gold, the amount of public and private debt in the economy, I think we are going to have a crisis within 2 to 3 years, and I don’t think the government is in good shape to resolve it” which is what was said by both left and right wing authors that I have on my shelf. For a nice leftie one I recommend Robert Schiller who wrote a book predicting the imminent housing market crash in 2005.
    In economic terms, can you tell me what Cameron and Osborne are doing that is a big departure from what Brown and Darling did, and planned to do?
    Even Balls just wants to “cut a bit slower” but that is purely political differentiation attempt there is no substance behind it. He will not tell us what the coalition are cutting that he would restore, what they are cutting that he would not cut, or give us any figures as to how much less he would cut or how he would achieve that.
    Both parties believe in print and pray economics, ie QE, and in very slowly decreasing the rate of increase of public spending (neither believes in actual cuts.) So go on, tell me any significant difference.
    P.s. Anyone know whats happened to Michele?

  • Anonymous

    Hundredth birth of Dylan this year – but you don’t expect simple little me to keep track of all anniversaries, do you?

    And talking of Dylan,
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-south-west-wales-21123462

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QZsZYXInD8

    And happy wotsits Tonga, by the way. And what star sign are you then Dave S?

    Let me guess… Librian? They are always hard work! : )

  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous

    Might as well post some Winner – heard he was on his last legs months ago.

    Torbay Devon, and not Cornwall, as the Guardian posted the other day,
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wqe1h3byUw

    Spoke to Jane Merrow, above main actress, few months ago on youtubby, and she heard Winner was creaking. That infection he caught in the Carribbean a few years ago bolloxed him, and he knew his days were numbered from then.

  • Anonymous

    Ali – Swans off to their first Wembley Cup final, and any english cup final too. Against Bradford! Don’t have to look it up to remember Bradford City won an FA Cup Final in 1911. Bury won around then too, as well of course Burnley.

  • http://twitter.com/kingswing72 Mark Wright

    The key word in the phrase ‘Performance Enhancing Drugs’ is the word *enhancing*. Sure Lance Armstrong wanted to win. But I also believe he wanted to be the fastest.

    Surely part of the human experience is to push ourselves to the limits of what is possible? Throughout history mankind has used drugs and technology to do this. So why the restrictions?

    I cannot even pretend to be a fan of cycling, or even sport in general. What I *am* interested in is how fast a man or woman can go. Period.

    I never fail to be mesmerised watching a doped up Ben Johnson sprint at an unprescedented speed at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Sure, Usain Bolt has superceeded it since, but at the time Johnson was untouchable.
    Did I care that he took drugs? Nope. I just wanted to see a man run fast.
    So maybe we should have two separate sporting bodies. One for those who train using only natural suppliments and one for those who use every possible enhancement known to man. ‘Men’s 100m sprint on steroids’? I’d watch!!!
    Drugs can enhance performance. If you don’t agree then go and listen to Sgt Pepper. I’d wager that if John, Paul, George & Ringo were not taking performance enhancing drugs the latter part of the 60’s would have been, well, sh*t.

  • Anonymous

    characteristic honesty = Terrible judge of character
    Lets hope people like you and alistair change your “i take as i find” outlook – or you could keep making massive errors of judgement for the rest of your life and never learn anything from your mistakes (lance liestrong massive misjudgement)

  • Anonymous

    By the way, that is not actually Dylan Thomas in colour/color there, it is Bob Kingdom, playing him, based on his Edinburgh fringe show in sometime in the 1990’s, beeb Wales appearing hour long show, directed by Anthony Hopkins just after Silence of the Lambs, I do believe, or was that Gwyn and his Selected Exits?

    Return Journey is Dylan’s short story, when he returned to Swansea after helping write propaganda for the people allied in some hidden backroom of London, and saw all his mind sighted memories in memory from WWII were bombed flat, with his coming tears. We’re not like Coventry, us down here tend to rage and show our tears more freely, in public.

    Should be a right jamboree, in Laugharne this year, as well as Swansea, with Dylan’s post-mates, from all over the World, coming out of the woodwork, and oh yes, his so called culture-vultures, being carried on his shoulder.

    Good for Wales GDP, at least.

  • Dave Simons

    Same as you mate – we’ve had this conversation before!

  • Dave Simons

    Cameron, Osborne, the odious Boris, the various ‘think’ tanks and spin doctors behind them and the Tory-dominated media have done a pretty thorough job in shifting collective attention away from the gamblers in the private sector who caused the present economic crisis and towards the public sector that didn’t. You appear to have lapped it all up. Don’t be fooled by empty rhetoric and appearances – Cameron/Osborne are never seriously going to squeeze their excessively rich tax-dodging schoolpals. The squeaking pips will come, as usual, from the least advantaged, as they are and have been doing. Labour’s feeble attempts at redistribution of wealth always get scuppered by the brute power of capital, which, incidentally, I don’t think I said was dead, did I? You say ‘This crisis was very definitely not capitalist!’ Really? When have we ever had pure, untrammelled capitalism? The system would have imploded centuries ago if we had. It doesn’t work! It has a built-in contradiction. Every capitalist unit needs to cut its costs to maximise profits, and that means cutting the cost of that ‘factor of production’, labour. The trouble is you have to keep that ‘factor of production’ alive and fit, so you have to spend something on it. Also that ‘factor of production’ is a potential consumer of the goods other capitalists need to sell. But cutting costs limits the ability of that ‘factor’ of production’ to buy. Hence periodic overproduction followed by general slump. Capitalism has always needed taming and you’d know about it if it hadn’t been.

  • Dave Simons

    And you’ll have to wait a bit longer – Thomas was born in 1914.

  • Anonymous

    Yes we did, eighteen months ago was it now Dave S, was it?

    Oh Capricorns you are on about!

    But if you can make it down this way this year, just give me a shout, and I will lay “things” on for you. Just leave the wifey at home, is my only advice.

  • Anonymous

    Seems the Arse is having an Oldham problem at the moment in the FA. 3-1! Hard cheese yesterday pal. That is how it goes sometimes.

  • Anonymous

    Cameron skiing in Davos, mon ami, Aleeestair,

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OE2__BOGmDc

    Il est knows sheeet.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cyril.wheat Cyril Wheat

    This was a remarkable con by a master of the genre. Most of us wanted his success to be true and consequently were led up the proverbial. What to do in the future? Doubt every remarkable achievement, rubbish great athletes? I am sickened by his revelations and sickened by the way we all fell for it.
    Hindsight is an exact science and he cannot possibly come back under any circumstances.
    Good piece Alistair.

  • Dave Simons

    I hope to be in the Usk Valley in just over a week. Not sure where you are.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/GillandDes-Currie/741511881 GillandDes Currie

    You supported Tony Blair in his lies, both in hatching them and distributing them. Where is the difference?
    Des Cuurie

  • Anonymous

    Yes, there is confussion there.

    Got to promote it early for ticket sales around the world from them to salivate, and plan to get here. Pity that it clashes with the Scots vote then though, but there we go.

    It is called creating a market.

  • Anonymous

    Not far Dave S, Carmarthenshire. But I am a bit busy these days with family stuff, so useless to try and organise things. Hay on Wye, perchance? Next river along from the Usk?

    Have a good time all the same – we are all a bunch of strange funny buggers down this end of Britain, just enjoy it.

    My favorite road, Abergwesyn church to Tregaron, about halfway in with this vid, in a drop-top,
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4f-EWh2RRzU