Lance Armstrong’s charity work

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Students of WW2 will probably be aware of an infamous Japanese experimental section of the Japanese Army called Unit 731, who conducted hideous, live, anaesthetic –free experiments of almost unimaginable cruelty on thousands of prisoners across occupied China. I’ve been reading about it today and to be honest the details and sheer sadism of the perpetrators was sickening.

Interestingly though a great many of those responsible, especially the ones at the top of the tree, largely got away scot-free when Japan surrendered. Why? Because they were seen by some powerful people as having something valuable to contribute to the post-war world. The Americans in particular had uses for a great deal of the knowledge and expertise built up by Unit 731 for their own biological weapons programmes.

Other experiments were undertaken under the most wantonly savage of conditions that did produce tangible medical benefits that were of some benefit to humanity-for example into treatment for frostbite. Naturally, that in no way justifies what happened.

I don’t know why but the whole moral dilemma that this throws up, i.e. what does one do with the benefits accrued from acts of evil, got me thinking about Lance Armstrong.

While of course, what the disgraced cyclist has done is in no way comparable  to the depraved behaviour of Unit 731, there is an aspect of Armstrong’s fall from grace we can reflect on in intellectually somewhat similar terms.

There has been a great deal of hand-wringing over the fate of Armstrong’s cancer charity work in recent days, and many have been opining that all the philanthropic work he has supposedly done will be forgotten and the causes he attached himself to irreparably damaged. We’re told that Armstrong did a lot of good with his Livestrong Foundation, we are told, regardless of his sociopathic behaviour as a professional athlete.

The narrative has always been that Armstrong was/is a hero to people fighting cancer. His determination to overcome the disease and come back stronger was an inspiration to fellow-sufferers in their own fight against the disease. And maybe he was/is. Check out the ludicrous comments that appeared under this recent blog on the Livestrong site.

Apparently his crimes (and we are literally talking about criminality here) do not in any way detract from his cancer work.  This narrative of cancer survivor-turned-best cyclist in the world was always based on a lie and the world now knows this. His confession on the Oprah Winfrey sofa was pretty unambiguous (and has left the legion of Armstrong defenders online, with the ludicrous and self-deluded argument that ‘he had never failed a test’, looking like twats).

There are a couple of reasons why I don’t think we can really separate out Lance Armstrong the cheat and Lance Armstrong the anti-cancer warrior.

Firstly, this appears to be the last argument that the Armstrong-brigade now has. For years we have had to endure the vilifying and slandering of his opponents on and off the bike as embittered, disturbed or avaricious, the reliance on the aforementioned fiction that he had never failed a test despite being tested hundreds of times, the constant referring back to his borderline-insane training regimen that supposedly gave him the crucial advantage over his rivals (most of whom were also doping, it should be noted, not that that really matters) that supposedly proved that everything he accomplished on the bike was humanly possible, the revolutionary approach to cycling we are told he brought to the sport (i.e. pedalling faster on a smaller ring is more efficient than pulling a massive gear as hard as one can, something he used to devastating effect in time trials), and in the final instance Armstrong’s passionate, and now clearly shameless, denials of wrongdoing.

Now we all know that everything just listed is rubbish, there is literally nothing else to say other than “actually he’s a good bloke, who cares that he cheated, look at what he did for charity”. It’s a mark of desperation.

Secondly, I think we need to start to re-think Armstrong’s motivations when it comes to his charity work. A picture has been painted of a chillingly cynical man in the last few months, one who would stop at nothing to win and build the Lance Armstrong brand. Happy-clappy, celebrity-endorsed feelgood charity work is the perfect cover and he could always cite the potential damage bad publicity would do to Livestrong to silence potential critics and whistleblowers, just like Jimmy Savile used his charity work to act with impunity in his personal life.

Indeed, a great example of him using his charity work to try to conceal the real motivations was when Armstrong returned to cycling in 2009 he cited as his main reason his desire to increase the profile of his charity work, when it was transparently a massive ego trip to try and win the Tour again.

Put simply, his charity work is simply a shield he has used and I think will continue to use entirely cynically. He doesn’t really care about cancer and if he does it is only in so far as it being a part of a backstory he can exploit for his own ends.

And on the basis of what we’ve seen of his character in the last few years, I would be fascinated to hear anyone try and take issue with that assertion.

It is also the height of delusion to think that the future of cancer support and research really depends on a man who has done little else other than pedal furiously for many years.

My love for Bradley Wiggins grows and grows

It’s fair to say that the reputation of cycling has taken a fair few knocks in recent weeks. The revelations that have ruined former golden boy Lance Armstrong have proven immensely satisfying for your faithful correspondent, who always despised him, but I’m aware that it could lead to the perception that the sport is utterly corrupted.

Chief amongst Armstrong’s great many weaknesses is his colossal and all-consuming ego, which clearly contributed to his ill-advised return to the sport a few years ago. He simply couldn’t help himself and his real motivation, not his stated one of raising awareness of his charity work, was embarrassingly transparent. Fortunately his conceit blew up in his face.

Ego drove Armstrong (and many others) to dope and then blithely pretend that he was clean. Ego motivated the bullying of his critics and rivals. One man’s ego created the edifice that has finally crashed down on him.  

So it was hugely refreshing to see that Bradley Wiggins suggest that he little desire to defend his Tour de France title next year. I for one welcome the decision as a heartening display of humility and admission that even the best athletes are fallible:

“I haven’t got that much of an ego………It was always about winning one Tour de France for me and I’m proud of the way that I did it. Cycling’s a team sport and I wouldn’t have won last year if it hadn’t been for the help of my team-mates, so if I can play a part in one of them winning next year that would be great.

“If everything goes to plan and I get the nod to do the Giro, that’s what is going to happen. I’m a great historian of the sport and I’d like to win a pink jersey to go with the yellow one.”

Can you imagine Armstrong ever saying like this?

I have no great affection for Cadel Evans, but it was rather distressing watching him implode at this year’s race trying to defend his Tour title. It was sad watching a great athlete fall apart before your very eyes. I fear Wiggins, 33 next time round, could be in for a similar beating.

In a post-doping age we need to accept that it simply isn’t realistic for athletes to keep winning the Tour year after year and winning multiple grand tours in the same season without resorting to cheating, and that we need to encourage people to accept and acknowledge that. Wiggins is being exceptionally mature and it is hugely refreshing that he has decided to use his remaining time in the sport to try something else and also help his team-mates attempt to replicate his success. He accepts that he has had his moment and other people should be allowed their chance.  

Bradley, I salute you. As well as being the coolest athlete in the world you are also one of the most likeable.

The Mambo runs very slowly around the streets of Birmingham

 

I beat all these….

 

When this blog was in its infancy this time last year I wrote, to universal acclaim, about my experiences at the Birmingham Half Marathon, now called the Great Birmingham Run as it is sponsored by Bupa. I had a fairly disillusioning race to be honest. The Mambo is used to sporting excellence. I was not excellent that day, and was in fact beaten comfortably by a man in costume. Not very pleasing, all in all.

This year the Mambo returned to the fray, and Sunday’s fun and games provided me with the added bonus of having an excuse not to go the anti-cuts demo in London the day before. It’s a bloody long way on the coach; I have to sort out a massive cold lunch; to be honest I’ve yet to go to a peaceful demo that has ever actually changed anything; and I’ve only ever gone to them in recent years out of sense of guilt as much as anything else…… at this point I know the word ‘dilettante’ is the one on your mind. To which I reply: what of it?

I had promised myself that this time things would be very different. And although I was significantly faster than last years abject failure, and reliably informed that no one dressed like a big banana beat me, I am still hugely disappointed with my time.

Anyway, I would like to make a couple of observations about the day of Mambo mediocrity.

Firstly, kudos to the people along the route who put up anti-Bupa posters in their windows along the route. They heartened me greatly and provided a wonderful antidote to what are normally days when corporations and sponsors are uncritically celebrated and one is by necessity forced into taking on the role of a walking advertising hoarding. Righteous, especially in these times when the NHS as we know it is in danger or being broken up. Endurance sports in particular are either deeply apolitical or often very individualistic, right-wing pursuits, and I enjoyed seeing that discourse questioned, however fleetingly.

Secondly, just a word for the moron spectator who I exchanged pleasantries with in Edgbaston at about the eleven mile mark. Breathing cigarette smoke out onto the course is the height of stupidity and bad form. I meant every word of what I said and I only regret not squeezing more expletives into my pithy, satirical putdown. If you are there next year and we cross paths again expect an even more withering slice of rhetoric.        

Thirdly, I will be back. Of that dear reader, be in no doubt whatsoever.

Thoughts on Lance Armstrong’s dénouement

As a young man I fell in love with cycling watching the Tour de France, in particular the epic mountain stages. Watching the supermen attack, attack, attack, every day in the Alps and the Pyrenees was one of the most thrilling sights in sport. The riders involved were absolute beasts. They were doing things that scarcely seemed possible, even to a naïve stripling like junior Mambo.

But I, like millions of others, suspended our disbelief as we wanted (and in some cases needed) to believe it was real and that these guys had got where they had just by training hard and being the best.

So while I am loving watching the narcissistic bully Lance Armstrong’s reputation being blown to bits, I have to acknowledge that we all as cycling fans are partially complicit in what he (and many others, lest we forget) did over those years. We never really questioned the absurd performances these guys were producing day after day, or if we did we usually internalised our disquiet. We never reflected on that wild look in their eyes and unnaturally bulging muscles.

We just wanted to be entertained and the entertainers did what they thought they had to do. Most of them weren’t and aren’t multi-millionaires like Armstrong. It was a just a living. A means to an end. Cycling’s direction of travel over the years has been the consequence of it ultimately just being a job for the people involved, blended with a toxic mixture of expediency, money and over-competitiveness.

If I’m totally honest what Armstrong did was nothing worse than many others at the time. Behind the success stories of most competitive riders during that period there is a trail of injections, supplements and transfusions. He deserves to be stripped of his titles but so do many others.

It was the bullying and intimidation of Armstrong that crossed the line in my mind. The way he dealt with his critics and the lives he has ruined pursuing them over the years. The journalists who wouldn’t let the matter drop who were the subject of spiteful, destructive vendettas. The critics in the Peloton who were driven out of the sport they loved when their only crime was the desire to ride cleanly (and who in their right mind would want to pump themselves full of all that shit anyway?). The self-righteous condemnation of other ‘cheats’ by Armstrong when they had only made the mistake of being caught, and when anyone other than self-deluding egomaniac would have just kept their mouth shut and thanked God it wasn’t them who had tested positive this time.

But in order to do all that and silence so many people Armstrong needed the willing complicity of many, many people. People who turned a blind eye or joined in when Armstrong was playing at being Al Capone.

Some of those have done the right thing by testifying against him, finally. It should have been sooner though.

Others need to ask themselves a few awkward questions. If professional cycling is to get its soul back its now time for full and frank disclosure. The idea of a truth and reconciliation committee that has been doing the rounds seems like an eminently sensible idea.

Why the carping of Oscar Pistorius might actually represent progress

One of the more notable, and sadly less savoury aspects of the Paralympics has been the row over the length of Alan Oliveira’s blades in the T44 200m final, something that Paralympic poster boy Oscar Pistorius thinks gave his rival an unfair advantage. In one respect it’s quite sad as the row has deflected attention from the achievements of Oliveira and in particular British athlete Jonnie Peacock, whose win in the T43/T44 100m was pretty bloody spectacular.

My reading of the story is that although Oliveira’s blades were significantly longer than Pistorius’s, they broke no rules and therefore he has no case to answer. Maybe it was unfair advantage, maybe it wasn’t. But he didn’t win illegally (although disparities in blade length surely do make a difference to speed, especially over distances like 200m and 400m) so I worry that the complaints of Pistorius are simply sour grapes. He has chosen his blade length, partly so he can compete with the able-bodied athletes as he was clearly bored at winning so easily in the equivalent events for the disabled. That won’t be a problem now though, seemingly……..

Impressive though Pistorius and his achievements are, he just isn’t used to losing against other disabled athletes. Clearly the defeat came as a big shock to him.

His response to being beaten was the depressingly standard reaction of an athlete who isn’t used to and doesn’t like losing. You can call it unsporting maybe, although he would argue that it was the level of focus and determination required to be a winner. I’d err towards unsporting. I don’t like a bad loser and I don’t like a bad loser throwing around accusations of foul play with not a lot to base it on (and before you say the words Ye Shiwen to me, just bear in mind that it was a totally different set of circumstances.)

I think the episode points up something positive however. This was an international news story. That is to say the Paralympics are a big deal and when there is a controversy during the games it is being reported and analysed in exactly the same way that any normal sporting controversy would be. Pistorius reacted the same way that any sore loser did in any sport, be it Arsene Wenger, Michael Schumacher, Christiano Ronaldo or me after I bombed at the Great Birmingham Run last year (although next time, boys and girls, I am throwing down).

This is being treated with the same level of seriousness as a similar type of dispute at the Olympics would be. The stakes are equally high. These guys are competing at the highest level and what they do is of international significance, in exactly the same way as the performances of Usain Bolt, Mo Farah or Bradley Wiggins.

Would this story have been reported this way ten or fifteen years ago or generated anything like this amount of coverage? No. There’s no doubt that this Paralympic games has had the biggest profile of any disabled sports event, ever.

That is equality, I think, and it is most welcome. Surely everyone in the Paralympic movement or those who want their achievements to be celebrated and not condescended to should be welcoming these developments, in a perverse kind of way. When the Paralympics is afflicted with same levels of bitterness, egotism and professionalism that the Olympics are, and incidents of bad sportsmanship or alleged cheating are major global news stories then I would argue that we are making progress to a time when the disabled are treated the same as those of us with all our limbs but a lot less determination.

Daniel Hannan gets it right…sort of……

I’m sure our burgeoning and loyal band of followers will be aware that here at the Mambo we don’t get on particularly well with Daniel Hannan. And the feeling is mutual.

But his latest piece contains a grain of truth (normally his articles are unrelenting, paranoid, swivel-eyed dross). You won’t be surprised to hear that when I offer my conditional endorsement though I’m not referring to the guff he writes about “a bureaucratic machine”, something that sounds rather like something you’d hear from a 9/11 conspiracy theorist.

But where Hannan is right, probably wholly inadvertently, is to point out that personnel changes won’t fundamentally alter the direction of this government. The ideological direction of travel is already fixed regardless of who provides the public face of individual policies.

For example, one can guarantee that Rupert Murdoch’s man on the inside Jeremy Hunt won’t be rowing back on the government’s commitment to dismantle the NHS.  He may sell the idea a little better than the gormless and hapless Andrew Lansley, but nothing substantive will change (and therein lies the danger, as a smoother salesman may appease some of the opposition).

Expenses fiddler and arch Orange Booker David Laws had a crucial unofficial advisory role anyway. His return to government (not rehabilitation) is merely making that role official. The government’s education policy won’t change significantly either way as a consequence.

None of this represents “a lurch to the right”, as some are claiming. Firstly, it’s difficult to imagine how much further to the right a Conservative government could go, and secondly the policy agenda is set by Number 10 and Number 11. That won’t be changing and the men with the power in the Conservative Party (for now anyway) are quite clear about that. The identities of the salesmen aren’t the problem, it’s what they are selling.

In any case, considering the mess this government is making of things, Cameron is merely rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

Which brings me on (sort of) to another point. The booing of Gideon.

Now I loved it. It’s good to see the smirking half-wit get a taste of what all right-thinking people think of him and his policies. It’s also great to see so many people observe something that we have known here at the Mambo and have been arguing for some time, that the man is a fool, and the view, widely-held not so long ago, that he was some kind of strategic genius is palpably ludicrous.

The booers were absolutely right to boo and point up the farce of a Chancellor personally responsible for savage cuts in state support for the disabled being a guest of honour the Paralympics. It will be interesting to know whether he was already aware of the depth of his unpopularity (I rather suspect that he did, he may be thick but I’m sure even he isn’t that lacking in self-awareness)

It was also nice to see Gordon Brown get a much better reception, especially when one considers the way that the right-wing press tried (and failed) previously to exploit Brown’s disability (his weak eye-sight) to discredit him.

And to argue that it wasn’t the time for “politics” is absurd. Any time is the right time for politics. Especially now.

But it is noteworthy that David Cameron didn’t get quite such a hostile reception. Or Boris Johnson. Even though both are cut from the same welfare-slashing cloth.

Osborne has become the object of hatred, even though his agenda is the agenda of the entire coalition government. They are all in it together, if you’ll excuse the pun, and should be getting exactly the same response.

In some respects it’s quite similar to the situation with Nick Clegg. He has been an excellent shield for the puppet-masters, the Tories, as he has been the recipient of much of the fury and scrutiny that would they would otherwise have had to endure. It’s a mistake to be personalising it too much.

Osborne may appear to be the lovechild of Blackadder and Cain, but he shouldn’t be singled out. All the Tories deserve the same treatment and hostility.

The Lance Armstrong myth finally punctured, and not before time

“And as many others, including USADA’s own arbitrators, have found, there is nothing even remotely fair about its process. USADA has broken the law, turned its back on its own rules, and stiff-armed those who have tried to persuade USADA to honour its obligations. At every turn, USADA has played the role of a bully, threatening everyone in its way and challenging the good faith of anyone who questions its motives or its methods, all at US taxpayers’ expense……

……USADA cannot assert control of a professional international sport and attempt to strip my seven Tour de France titles. I know who won those seven Tours, my teammates know who won those seven Tours, and everyone I competed against knows who won those seven Tours. We all raced together. For three weeks over the same roads, the same mountains, and against all the weather and elements that we had to confront. There were no shortcuts, there was no special treatment. The same courses, the same rules. The toughest event in the world where the strongest man wins. Nobody can ever change that. Especially not Travis Tygart.”

It says something about the colossal, borderline-delusional egomania of Lance Armstrong that even when admitting defeat in his evidently fruitless attempts to prove his innocence he still lacks the good grace to acknowledge that he has been caught out. In the face of a now-overwhelming case that he cheated he still cannot bring himself to confess.

He has given up because he knows he can’t win and is trying to salvage what remains of his reputation. To pretend otherwise, as he is doing, is ludicrous.

One is reminded of the rather sad case of Richard Virenque, who similarly refused to acknowledge he had been systematically doping and pumping himself full of anything he could get his hands on. He became an international laughing stock by blithely attempting to maintain his innocence despite irrefutable proof of what he had been up to. He looked and looks like a right dickhead.

Admittedly the case against Armstrong isn’t as absurdly open and shut in the way it was with Virenque but there is surely little doubt of his culpability.

In the first instance it is simply unimaginable that he could have defeated a peloton that for the most part were doing similar things. The performance advantage of doping and the cocktail of drugs and hormones that so many riders were on was simply too great for a man to overcome with just hard work and a good night’s sleep.

But of course there is rather more to it than that. USADA has assembled a case based on science and countless sworn-under-oath testimonies that Armstrong knew he had no chance of getting the better of. A man previously willing to aggressively fight any and every suggestion of wrongdoing or allegation against him has rather rapidly lost that ferociously combative streak. I wonder why.

The real question posed right now is: how was he able to get away with it for so long? There have been accusations of Armstrong conniving with the UCI, who would have been naturally desperate to protect the reputation of the sport’s most marketable asset.

Armstrong was able to point to the hundreds of clean tests as proof that he was ‘clean’. His former team-mate Tyler Hamilton suggests that wasn’t actually the case. In order to pull that off there must have assistance of some pretty powerful people in the sport, people whose job it was to police cycling. In those circumstances it probably isn’t surprising that Armstrong has gotten away with it for so long. Too many people would go down with him and a man like Armstrong would be sure to make sure that they did.

The tragedy is of course that even with performance-enhancing drugs Armstrong’s achievements were phenomenal. His training regimes were almost suicidally gruelling. He beat a roster of cyclists many, if not most of whom were demonstrably using the same enhancement methods that Armstrong was. Just look at Youtube clips from the mid to late 90s of all the top cyclists and compare them to the way pros ride now, especially in the mountains. The difference is phenomenal. They just can’t ride like that anymore. Armstrong was but one of many.

I’ve commented on this blog previously that I’m not one to be to be too judgmental about drug cheaters in sport. It isn’t the morally black and white question that some commentators pose it as. Many cyclists would have felt they had no choice but to ‘cheat’ as their livelihoods depended on it. It’s easy to be self-righteous when cycling is only a hobby. When it’s your job you naturally end up taking a more instrumental view.

But with Lance Armstrong it was very different. He created an image that made him millions and millions of dollars that was built on a complete lie. His career was founded on his ‘cleanness’, it was the delusion of the American Dream made flesh. He self-righteously pontificated on how his Tour wins were solely down to hard work at every available opportunity rather than just keeping his mouth shut like most of the other riders in the peloton did at the time. He viciously bullied and intimidated anyone who questioned the validity of his achievements. Filippo Simeoni, Christophe Bassons and Greg LeMond can all testify to that and they can all claim vindication from this decision. Their bravery contributed to getting us to this point.

The public persona was always a million miles away from reality with Armstrong. He was and is a spiteful, arrogant, conceited charlatan and even if he hadn’t been a lying doper he would still have been a tosser. I could never forgive him for his treatment of Marco Pantani, a rider that Armstrong was not fit to lick the boots of. His cancer was no excuse for being such an unpleasant human being.

His past has finally caught up with him and anyone with an interest in the integrity of the sport should be celebrating this moment. His ‘wins’ deserve to be obliterated from the historical record.

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