Editorial: Lance's brazen bluff

Last updated 05:00 17/01/2013

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OPINION: When the United States Anti-Doping Agency last year released its overwhelming case showing that cyclist Lance Armstrong had headed an illegal doping programme bigger than anything ever known in professional sport, Armstrong tried, as he had so many times before, to bluff his way out of it.

Attempting to carry on his sporting activities as a triathlete and his work in charity, he instructed his lawyers to continue to deny that he had been involved with illegal drugs in his sporting career.

Declining all interviews, he let it be known that he considered the whole thing a trumped-up case. He even, after refusing to engage at any time with Usada's inquiry, had the effrontery to let his lawyers say on his behalf that he had not been given a fair hearing.

He calculated that he could brazen it out. And why not, because it had always worked in the past. When dope testing had come close to exposing him he had always managed to have the results suppressed, the tests reconsidered and the outcome changed.

When a few brave colleagues had blown the whistle he had bullied and intimidated and browbeaten them, discrediting them and ruining their careers.

One woman, for instance, with direct evidence of his doping activities, he branded a prostitute and alcoholic. When the London Sunday Times reported accurately on his doping he called them liars, sued for defamation and won a settlement of £500,000.

This time, however, attempting to brazen it out did not work. The case against him was too complete and compelling.

More than two dozen witnesses, including 15 professional cyclists and a dozen former members of his team had testified. The case was unanswerable and Usada refused to be bullied.

Armstrong, it said, had orchestrated a doping programme "more extensive than any previously revealed in professional sports history ... a fraudulent course of conduct that extended over a decade" and it would not back down from that assertion.

The consequences for Armstrong have been disastrous. Sponsors melted away, he was stripped of all his titles, he was forced to quit his charity (the cornerstone of his post-cycling reputation) and he was banned from other sports. His name has become toxic.

Faced with oblivion on all these fronts, he has now attempted to claw something back by giving an interview to Oprah Winfrey. One report says he has made a confession of sorts, although Oprah herself has been more equivocal, saying: "He did not come clean in the manner I expected."

One problem he has, of course, is that having lied on oath if he reverses himself now he faces not only criminal prosecution for perjury but also civil claims that could strip him of his fortune. What he actually said will be known when the first part of the interview is broadcast tomorrow morning.

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But what he says now is irrelevant. For his duplicity, deceit, lying and cheating were so complete that whatever confessions or shows of contrition he may now make are wholly beside the point. The interview is nothing more than a cynical attempt to manipulate opinion and rescue something for himself for the future.

Even the choice of Oprah, a decent and accomplished woman but no hard-news interviewer, was designed to win for himself the maximum amount of sympathy by association.

The only way Armstrong could atone for his misdeeds and crimes would be to vanish from the public stage and go off to do good works in obscurity.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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