Welcome, Lance Armstrong, to hall of fame for deluded athletes

The Last Word: In this shrine of shallow glamour he may yet try to absolve himself

Oprah: Don't you hate to lose?

Lance: Yes, but if you get beat but you didn't make any mistakes and your preparation was perfect, then you realise that someone else was just better. I think I can live with that.

That's what he told her, anyway, back in 2004. As we all know now, the possibility that someone might just be better was the one thing Lance Armstrong could not endure.

It remains to be seen how candid he might be about his idea of "perfect" preparation when he again sits down with Oprah Winfrey, on Friday. Perhaps he will say deceit was pervasive, not personal; that in such a toxic environment, no rival was ever going to be "just better".

It wasn't cheating, Oprah. It was anger. Here I was, born with this gift, this fight in me, that has helped me through far bigger challenges than getting my butt up a mountain – I don't want to talk about it here, Oprah, but I think you know what I'm talking about. And all around people were not trying to outshine me, but to quench that flame. It made me mad. But not that mad. I trusted my team, in good faith, to protect my talent from those cynical, destructive forces – to meet them on the margin. I only ever wanted to beat them. Not join them.

Cycling is one of those sports where a common plateau of technical ability leaves the elite instead depending on something within. Some of those reserves are measurable, according to dieticians and physios and sleep analysts – not to mention the guy who stocks the fridge – but the athletes themselves cherish the idea that the ultimate difference is innate, intangible.

And that is why the last, desp- erate frontier they recognise is not right or wrong, but the precipice beyond any sane capacity for anguish and endurance. Understandably enough, they always treat that step into the void as a human triumph – never as a superhuman, pharmacological one.

So the whole messy business is about storytelling: what the athlete tells himself; what he tells Oprah; what we tell posterity. Each represents the same events in a different way, each in different degrees distorted by personal or corporate delusion: "I may have made a mistake, but I am not guilty"; "We may be at fault – or at least those representing the standards of our society, in testing protocols and so on – but he is guilty."

At the moment baseball is busy trying to anticipate history's judgement on a generation of stars tainted by rumoured steroid abuse. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and various contemporaries – their names polluted either by hearsay, or as helpless footnotes to the asterisks against the men they played with – were this week blackballed from the Hall of Fame. For the first time since 1996, the envelope opened at the ceremony contained a blank sheet.

Needing 75 per cent approval, Bonds and Clemens did not muster even 40 per cent. Some believe they merit induction even on their early achievements, and that it is sanctimonious and vindictive to banish men reckoned, by some, respectively the greatest hitter and pitcher of their day. Every era had its aberrations, after all. Bonds completed 762 home runs. Babe Ruth hit 714 without ever facing a black pitcher.

Bonds and Clemens can stay on the ballot another 14 years, and may yet be shown clemency. True, voters must consider not just a player's record and ability, but his "integrity, sportsmanship, character". But Marvin Miller, late boss of the players' union, once pronounced the Hall of Fame to be "full of villains" – right down to members of the Ku Klux Klan.

Just as press and media are now enjoying open season on Armstrong, when only a handful had the guts to pursue him in his bullying, litigious pomp, so the baseball scribes who stand sentry to Cooperstown must first have felt duped, and now avenged. Any cheats out there will have got what they deserved – which, funnily enough, is all their apologists say they might vaguely have tried to secure.

Admission to a Hall of Fame gives a pleasingly literal quality to themes of consecration and violation. To some, his return to Oprah does the same for Armstrong in a cheaper register, ritualising his fall from grace in a shrine of shallow glamour and emotion. In such an environment, Armstrong may yet try to absolve himself of decisions made in a more rarefied atmosphere – one where the oxygen, Oprah, is thinner than on any Pyrenean pass. But the testimony of other cyclists has made quite plain that their choice seemed perfectly clear.

Back in 2004, Oprah told Armstrong: "You were born with the thing that makes you stick, Lance. No one can teach you that. You come with your own nature, and then your environment nurtures whatever that is. You want to go into the pain, into the climb. That's who you are."

"That's true," replied Armstrong. And, even if he thought fleetingly about the "nurture" available in his environment, he must have thought that the perfect ending to his story.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and David Cameron appeal to the audience during the Question Time special
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
Michelle Dockery plays Lady Mary in Downton Abbey
peopleBut who comes top of the wish list?
Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, right, with Lib Dem candidate Jane Dodds in Newtown, Powys, as part of her tour in support of the party’s female candidates
general electionNick Clegg's wife has impressed during the campaign
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living