Analysing the Sports Illustrated Case Against Lance Armstrong

It’s been much anticipated as the article to illuminate the key themes of the third act of the life of Lance Armstrong. As the crescendo builds and the fat lady draws a deep breath, I’m going to pick out what I think are the key themes in Sports Illustrated’s The Case Against Lance Armstrong

The tide has turned

At the moment it’s a rip current in journalism that Armstrong is swimming against. Giants of sports journalism don’t turn against star names unless they really like the view from where they are standing and what they are hearing.

If Sports Illustrated decides that they, along with the New York Times and countless other publications of serious repute, will run against you, start worrying.

If they see a narrative different to the one you’re selling as the most powerful and attractive story they can tell, then that is both a journalistic and economic situation you can’t ignore. “Lance, victor over cancer” has ceased to be the editor’s choice. “Lance, the decline of a sporting legend” has now become the dominant narrative.

Leitmotif of deceit

Time and again Roberts and Epstein – or should it be Epstein and Roberts? the former has a better Woodward and Bernstein ring to it – return to the structure whereby what Armstrong claims stands at odds with what others witnessed.

There is no judgment cast, simply a recounting of both sides. As a reader it’s up to you to make that call on veracity.

The article’s thrust is seen in this quote:

“If a court finds that Armstrong won his titles while taking performance-enhancing drugs, his entourage may come to be known as the domestiques of the saddest deception in sports history.”

Confusing ‘discredited’ with unproven

The majority of the allegations are what I would call unproven. We hear claims that we’ve heard called “discredited” by the Armstrong camp, but which turn out to be unproven or untested.

It’s an important distinction: things Armstrong’s camp would like you to believe have been proven wrong have never been put to the test. To quote Public Enemy “Don’t believe the hype.”



The damage to Armstrong will be to his reputation, not his sporting record

The big thing that leaps out at me is that there is very little mention, if any, of the possibility that Armstrong could face sporting sanction.

This is a federal investigation which may lead to criminal charges but these will be for fraud, deception and that genre of crime. Nothing here says Lance’s sporting record will be stripped bare.

The impact pointed to by the article will be to Lance Armstrong, the figure his entourage have careful sculpted over the years. His cult of personality may have carried him this far, but these challenges will, at the very least, expose the joins we were never meant to see.

Stephanie McIlvain could face perjury charges

If her grand jury testimony turns out to be at odds with her previous sworn statements of what she hear at the hospital, then she finds herself in an awkward position. I suppose there could be some form of bargain struck for turning state witness, but it’s an ugly collateral effect of the world of Armstrong.

Yaroslav Popovych is probably working on his early retirement plans

Right at the top of the article we read that big, dumb Popo, the loyal ox got busted by the Italians. There’s not really been much on this but it looks like he will be the rider whose downfall exposes the machinery of modern doping.

There’s a sentimental part of me that always hurts for the loyal servant who is forced to fall on his sword for the master. “He should have known better” I tell myself, but I can’t help feel that it’s wrong that he’ll be the one who faces the ignominy alone.

Novitsky is playing the long game

On page 6, the article details the case of Mike Anderson, Armstrong’s former mechanic, who filed against him in 2005, noting that this account piqued the interest of the FDA” but that he wasn’t interviewed until six months ago by Novitsky.

That says to me that this has been in the offing a lot longer than we’d previously thought. This case has been waiting a long while for the circumstances to allow it to progress.

This is the patience of the type required to stalk deer: long, slow, testing and relying on finding that moment that gives the best shot at bringing down the stag.

I’m keen to hear what you think of the article and what themes and views you’ve drawn from it.

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