Twelve years have passed since Lance Armstrong mugged me. It was in public but none of the watchers shouted ‘Stop thief!’ We were crowded in a small bookshop near Trafalgar Square in Central London. Six books had made the short list for the £10,000 Sports Book of the Year prize. Slowly, the chairman of the judging panel eliminated the also-rans. My book about Olympic corruption was still in the race! I’d been shortlisted ten years earlier for another book about sports corruption. Was it my turn, at last?
Then came the winner! It wasn’t me and yes, I could cope with that. There were some other good books in the list. But the Big Prize was stolen from us by a liar. The title of Lance’s ghosted book It’s Not About the Bike was a dark joke that the judges should have understood. It was actually about the needles. Lots of them, in his arm, up his arse.
From the late 1990s Lance Armstrong may have passed the dope tests (and maybe he secretly failed some) but he couldn’t pass the smell test. I wasn’t the only reporter who’d sat with the now marvellously vindicated David Walsh and listened to him describing why he had little doubt that Lance was a doper.
The judges wanted a happy-clappy result and so they voted for a fraudster who claimed to have ‘beaten’ cancer. That should have been enough to toss the book in a bin.
Lance didn’t ‘beat’ cancer. Its not an act of individual will. With luck, the doctors may cure or control it. Or not. The individual sufferer can’t take their cancer out to the car park behind the pub and punch the crap out of it.
Using this myth to milk the emotions of millions of cancer sufferers and their loved ones is degrading to all of us, sick or healthy. If Lance could ‘beat it’ . . . maybe other victims could too. Just send money to his Livestrong foundation. The question still lurks . . . was his cancer caused by the drugs undermining his immune system?
Who should care that liar Lance won a serious literary prize? I do. It’s not about the money. It’s about the Washington Post, the paper that forty years ago took mighty risks to expose the Watergate conspiracy and the corruption of President Richard Nixon and his gang. In its ranks of legendary reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein sits the Post’s columnist Sally Jenkins who ‘collaborated’ with Lance on the prize-winning book.
Ms Jenkins has won prizes in America for her sports writing. Now she’s the Post’s court jester. She poses as a reporter but when she crafted the image demanded by the odious Armstrong she crossed a moral boundary of our writer’s trade. Our job is to research and publish the truth and to hell with offending millionaire sports stars.
We loathe the better pay deal if we retrain as public relations operatives. Sadly, she’s not alone. There are other reporters suppressing sport’s sins in return for access. And yet again, Sally Jenkins proves that when you trade journalistic scepticism, you get access to lies. Then you deceive the readers. Where’s the fun?
And now she seems to be deceiving herself. We have seen the testimony, we know about the payments to the doctors, we know Lance is a bully, a thug, the biggest enforcer of the cycling mafia’s omerta.
But Sally insists, ‘Lance Armstrong is a good man. There’s nothing that I can learn about him short of murder that would alter my opinion on that . . . For a long, long time I’ve had serious doubts about the motives, efficiency and wisdom of these doping investigations.’
Oh dear, Sally. This is embarrassing. The evidence screams that he forced team members to dope, even when they didn’t want to. A fiercely drugged-up entourage in the peloton propelled him to greater riches. Sally, for goodness sake, your pal Lance was a dealer! He chased down, threatened and tried to destroy people who told the truth.
And Sally’s wrong about something else. She wrote, ‘One thing I know about Armstrong, my friend and book collaborator of a decade now, is how much he loves a confrontation.’ Not any more he doesn’t. He’s hiding in his bunker in Austin Texas, reading the demands from sponsors for their money back and cancelled invitations to deliver uplifting and inspirational speeches.
He might also read the new book Lanced – the shaming of Lance Armstrong from David Walsh and Paul Kimmage and their Sunday Times colleagues. The next Sports Book of the Year award will be announced on November 26 so there’s still time to short list it.
I emailed Graham Sharpe who organises the contest, would they be asking for the money back? He replied, stiffly I thought, “There are no plans to review the result of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award for the year 2000.”
Sally, are you listening? I can’t find an email address for you. Send the money back. There were six of us on that short list so please send six cheques for £1,666.67.