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Soup of This Day #195: You See You Got Magic

June 15, 2012

Northern Mockingbird
A Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos, in flight over a birdbath in Austin, Texas, which just happens to be 1 of the places that cycling legend Lance Armstrong calls home. Please don’t shoot at the mockingbirds or Lance Armstrong – Photo: Chiltepinster, 2011. Chiltepinster is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

1 of my favourite books is Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. It was a mandated text at school but not in the stream I took so I didn’t take the chance to read it until I was in my 20s. Then, I picked up an old copy of my brother’s and sat down 1 afternoon, bored, to tick it off my literary bucket list.

I put the book down at around 6:00am the next morning when I finished it. I don’t even recall having dinner the night before, so engrossed in the story was I. It’s beautifully constructed – Some books you get the feeling that they started with a moral or a point and then structured a story around that. For To Kill A Mockingbird it feels like Lee started with a story and just told it. You can’t see the seams or the rivets – It’s just there, lacquered and varnished in the truth of the time.

It’s also a work of fiction.

This next step, from Harper Lee and To Kill A Mockingbird to the latest controversy surrounding cycling legend Lance Armstrong is a big 1 so mind yourself on it – Don’t look down. To help you along a bit I will categorically state that I’m no Harper Lee and Lance is no mockingbird – That’s ok though, neither of us needs to be.

A little over year ago I wrote a post about my relationship with Lance Armstrong.

To be clear: I have never met Lance Armstrong, nor corresponded with him – My relationship with him has been based around admiration from afar for an elite athlete who conquered the Tour de France 7 times and gave a similar whipping to cancer – A battle, a skirmish even, in a wider war he continues to fight today. For these reasons Lance Armstrong is my hero.

It’s not a relationship of blind worship though. Far from it – Lance Armstrong is too flawed for that. He comes across to me as deeply, almost obsessively, driven – To the point that dislikeable characteristics are exaggerated.

Bluntly – At times I think he’s an arsehole. And an unapologetic 1 to boot.

It’s easy then to imagine that he spent at least a part of his career illegally juiced. It’s easy to believe that he had to be biochemically assisted to win 1 of the world’s greatest endurance tests. 7 times. That would indeed be easy to imagine.

It would be hard to reconcile though with the legend – At least that’s what I wrote a year ago.

Back then the post was inspired by accusations from disgraced former team-mate, Tylor Hamilton. That Hamilton had doped at the behest of Armstrong, such that he could aid his team-leader in pursuit of the latter’s goals. Worse, and Hamilton claimed to have seen his former mate dope himself.

This looked a little grim for Lance Armstrong, particularly when viewed alongside the allegations of yet another disgraced former team-mate Floyd Landis. Floyd won the 2006 Tour de France – Or at least he appeared to have won it at the time. It turned out though that Landis was juiced and after he was stripped of the title firmly pointed the finger at Lance Armstrong. It was sort of a ‘you got me guv but he was doing it too.’

Anyway, a grand jury was inpannelled, empannelled or just pannelled* and it looked like Armstrong’s goose was cooked.

The investigation however fell through – The goose turned out to be an overcooked turkey and it didn’t belong to the tough-as-teak Texan legend. And so Lance Armstrong continued on his way, running, swimming and cycling forwards into a career in triathlons.

But such is the breadth of the legend, the allegations have never seemed to go away. Despite passing over 500 tests in his career and despite the US Justice Department looking for 2 years but failing to secure an indictment, Lance Armstrong once again stands accused.

This time it’s an old foe, the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has announced that it has proof of his juicin’ ways and that they will charge Armstrong and some connected officials with a conspiracy of cheating, potentially stripping the 40 yr old of his 7 Tour titles.

And again it looks grim – They seem to be implying that it is a lay-down misère – That the proof is unequivocal. Rather curiously they don’t seem to be held to the same standard as the fictional Atticus Finch of To Kill A Mockingbird might have appreciated. 1 strange quote from Travis Tygart, the chief executive of USADA reads:

‘Unlike the US Attorney, USADA’s job is to protect clean sport rather than enforce specific criminal laws.’

Which seems to imply that the task of keeping sport clean is 1 that is apart from the regular law. That it is so important that it warrants a justice all of it’s own.

And maybe it is. Not to me though.

A year ago I may have given the impression that I was at the metaphorical crossroads with Lance. There was the Devil and a bicycle you see and I was a little worried that my hero had struck a deal before I got there. If so I would still admire his achievements but my faith and respect in him would be irrevocably damaged – His record forever tainted in my eyes.

In a sense I was ducking the question of how I’d feel if it came out that he was juiced – I guess I was hoping that the question was never asked again because I didn’t have really have an answer.

I do now though.

Maybe you’re thinking that this new case is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. That the mountain, the Alpe d’Huez if you like, of accusations would have finally taken its toll. That I’m ready and able to foreclose the book on a fallen idol.

You’d be wrong.

Maybe it’s my love of irony. Maybe it’s just a natural reaction – A hardening of resistance against a campaign that is as obsessive as the man that it is targeting. Whatever the causes though my feelings are clear:

Leave. The. Man. Be.

USADA should focus its energies on fighting the war on today’s cheats – The battle against Armstrong is the past and given his clean record in tests to date it is now 1 to be fought in the minds of people – not in the kangaroo courts of sport.

For me it matters not what is found or said – He will remain my hero – A deeply flawed 1 to be sure but I’m cool with that. We’re obsessed with this concept of perfection, of purity, so much so that we overlook the good aspects that may better mark a person in favour of the ridiculous cults of personality that we hold up.

He’s fictional but if there was a way, I’d invite Atticus Finch to dinner. I reckon I’d find disappointments in him – Maybe he’d disavow gay marriage. Maybe he’d think that the right to bear arms should make it ok to own an assault rifle. These are views that I don’t share. I don’t care – Atticus Finch is square in a fight that I’d like to be in on – 1 of racial equality.

Lance Armstrong, via his LIVESTRONG Foundation, is a major player in another fight I’d like to get in on.

Whatever happens between the lawyers I will remember Lance Armstrong as the guy who beat cancer, then beat the best cyclists in the world 7 times over and then parleyed all of that into the kind of war on that bastard disease that his critics could only dream of waging on their local golf course.

I’ve answered the question for me and found my faith.

Give ’em hell Lance – I’ll back ya mate.

*I’m not a lawyer. I may have imagined up some or all of those words and legal concepts.

You See You Got Magic

  1. I think most of us have grown weary of the annual witchhunt to bring down Armstrong. Each year before the Tour de France, you can almost put it in your dayplanner someone, somewhere is going to want their moment “in the sun” accusing him of cheating. I too agree everyone should just move on. This energy is all better spent on fighting cancer…not fighting.

    • Witchhunt is the exact term that sums it up – There was a line in 1 article I read (ABC News online) that stated: ‘More and more, negative doping tests are not being considered sufficient evidence to a sceptical public…’ Talk about shifting those goalposts – We’re now getting closer to the old witch-finding technique – Dunk Armstrong in a pond. If he drowns he’s innocent and if he floats he’s a witch. I no longer care if he is a witch – It’s irrelevant. If he is a witch then he’s a cancer-fighting witch – Can we have more of them please?

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