Lance Armstrong’s admission to Oprah Winfrey he is a drug cheat, while avoiding the less comfortable accusations of bribery, defamation and coercion, doesn’t mean his achievements should be any less inspiring to cancer sufferers, their families and cycling fans the world over.
So why did he do it?
In his own words, he is, “A guy who expected to get whatever he wanted and to control every outcome.”
And he certainly attempted to control the interview, offering the occasional justification which came across more petulant than convincing.
He laboured on his disease, “Before my diagnosis I would say I was a competitor, but I wasn’t a fierce competitor, and in an odd way, that process turned me into a person that was truly win at all costs.
“When I was diagnosed and I was being treated I said I will do anything to survive… that ruthless and relentless and win at all costs attitude, and put it right into cycling”
The justification sat awkwardly, like a racial slur.
When questioned on the governing body’s inability to nail him for drug use throughout his career, Armstrong noted that his United States Postal Service team “was definitely professional and it was definitely smart”, yet the scale of this particular achievement is tempered by the proven incompetence at the UCI and ASADA.
In Armstrong’s own words, “There was no testing out of competition for most of my career so you’re not going to get caught [as] we were clean at the races.”
Taking drugs in elite cycling was, “As common as putting air in your tyres, as putting water in your bottles.”
He then went on to say it was not possible to win the Tour de France in his generation without the use of drugs, implying the widespread nature of drugs in the sport.
So can anything actually be done for the sport?
At one point Armstrong offers, “If there was a truth and reconciliation commission… I’d be the first man on the door.”
Yet in this viciously competitive environment, such that cycling is, asking every man to put their drugs away is like asking soldiers to shoot with paintballs in the hope the enemy also complies.
For Armstrong, his key achievement in this interview was in jumping on the grenade and not taking down his co-conspirators in the process.
And for this he wins many points.
Yes, detractors will claim that if mud is being slung it will stick to Armstrong the most, and therefore has every reason not to bring others into the dog-fight.
Yet there’s something honourable about a man falling on his sword, like the captain who goes down with the ship; whether he has a say in the matter or not, there is a certain dignity in it.
Armstrong is still an inspiration, through his achievements, not his words.
He still beat cancer. He then came out in an elite sport where drugs are the norm, an even playing field, and won the Tour de France seven times.
He remains a true champion, and hopefully can continue to inspire people affected by cancer the world over. Keep the wrist bands on.