Monday, 21 January 2013

The Return of LA Law?

So now the Oprah interviews are over or Lance Armstrong what next? What can be found to fill the endless days and nights that for years were just one long training schedule or a series of calendar dates of major cycling events around the globe. For mere mortals that might be a major test. But for an athlete who faced a life threatening disease - and won the war - it may prove an easier battle. 

Indeed a setback that a Texan mind could get around, given a tough childhood, and a youthful impatience to win things. Of bigger concern though would be the loss of notoriety, the disappearance of world fame, the global adulation and the power. These alone explain perhaps some of the reason for the Oprah interviews, as Lance clearly would like to see his “death sentence” – as he called it – shortened to allow a comeback to the world of sport. For a man that has faced testicular cancer, which spread to other part of his body, it was an unfortunate choice of phrase. 

But then again Mr Gunderson seems short on feelings, sensitivity or a real concern for others. This was clear in the staged dramatisation over two days by the Oprah Network with those seeking see a contrite Lance recounting some Damascene conversion short-changed. His future now though will really test his mental resolve, willpower and faced with power to make things happen it may be as big a test as the cyclist has ever faced in recent times. That loss of relevance could be his undoing 

It is that relevance is what we all seek and professional sports people, male and female, all face it more grimly upon their retirement and with differing levels of comfort. Or indeed success. 

Many cling on to roles within the sport of their lives as they battle to let go and find a new space in the world to inhabit. Sadly some don’t make it yet thankfully many others do which often comes at a price given that for many decades their adulthood is suspended – as the total focus is on training. Whether Armstrong can fill the gap in the future without returning to Triathlons and other extreme ventures remains to be seen. More importantly whether he will be allowed to do so by the powers that be in world cycling is still an open question at this juncture. 

But deal with it lance must. And like all of us – he needs to join the adult world where lies, fibs and porkies carry punitive damages. 

However there are many who have gone before him, sought redemption with some tell all version of Oprah, and failed to ever find a new place in the world close to their sporting life. Or indeed any place at all, often totally discarded for their indiscretions and realigning the truth of their Warholian moment of fame – that was truly passed. None more so than the bulging figure of Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson, who in 1988 was caught doping after the 100m Olympic final – and stripped of his medal. 

Today he lives in Ontario, Canada and coaches athletics far from the global audience that once captured his win in Seoul. Others have fallen by the wayside in not a dissimilar way 

This is the ugly side of sport. Or perhaps the reality of it where the punishment may indeed fit the crime. However according to LA’s law that may not be fair – if Oprah interview 2 is any measure. 

Again Armstrong struggles pot understand the cases of other suspended with the Alberto Contador being one, who won the Tour de France in 2007 and 2009 before being stripped of his 2010 victory and banned after failing a dope test. Or David Millar the cyclist who was banned for two years in 2004 after admitting taking banned performance-enhancing drugs, and is now back into cycling having served his suspension. 

What Lance forgets is that his misdemeanour was a prolonged and systematic level of doping that allowed him garner seven Tour de France titles under false pretences. What’s more, embroiled a lot of ambitious domestiques and teammates to obey his orders and at the same time bullied anyone who questioned his “cleanliness.” For that behaviour the penalty deserves to be much more and he road to redemption very long. 

The real question being that even still today the penny has not seemingly dropped. 

Often, if not always, powerful people become accustomed to having their very, their every word accepted as fact, or indeed law, with few fearless enough to question their assertions. A common Shakespearian failing that can afflict all of us at one time or another. It is this type of absolute power that many accorded Lance and obliged his every whim as he could make or break their careers. Or indeed their livelihoods as Betsy Andreu, Paul Kimmage, Pierre Ballester, David Walsh, Christophe Basson and others could attest. The consequence of that malevolence is no way akin to the deeds of Messers Contador and Millar. 

No cyclist ever accumulated the commercial and psychological power that Lance did. Nor has any sportsperson managed to acquire and involve so many organisations in his life, who knowingly or unwillingly never chose not to question the Bona Fides of the super efforts he managed aboard a professional bike. 

Cynically Lance hid behind the cancer word which challenged any disbelievers to question him, as in the case of Livestrong which facilitated his good goody image. 

For Lance though a potential spiral into the oblivion may be one outcome he will have to face in sporting terms for the first time and just cycle in Austin for the sheer hell of it away from any professional circuit. But with a movie beckoning on his life story it may mean that an all American dream reaches out to a new generation that may in time to come view him in a very different light. Something that is not an unknown phenomenon n Hollywood. 

On this occasion we are under still operating under LA law. Still a law unto himself for the most part.

But then absolute power is said to corrupt.

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