Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Insider's look vindication for Armstrong pursuer

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Lance Armstrong, cancer survivor and seven-time winner of the Tour de France, is also a cheat, a liar and a bully.

We know this because the United States Anti-Doping Agency finally acknowledged it -- at least the cheating and lying part -- last fall.

It barred Armstrong for life from bicycle racing and invalidated his cycling results since 1998, including all those tainted victories at the pinnacle of his sport.

But those decisions followed more than a decade of pressure from some of Armstrong's competitors and former teammates, and especially from a handful of persistent journalists such as David Walsh of Britain's Sunday Times.

This rambling insider's account of needles, narcissism and occasional nooky is Walsh's third book about Armstrong's cheating.

One was published only in France to take advantage of the greater protections of that country's libel laws than Britain's.

He also mentions ghost-writing two books about other bicycle racers.

As Walsh's vindication, Seven Deadly Sins is a triumph.

It recounts his battles with Armstrong and his supporters, their outrage over his skeptical reporting, and especially his shunning by the athletic supporters in the thoroughly biased sports media.

In fact, a major success of Seven Deadly Sins is its focus on the journalists and pseudo-journalists who publicize and romanticize cycling, and by extension all professional sports.

As a historical record, though, this circuitous account has problems.

It assumes readers have followed Armstrong's triumphs and trials as closely as the author has. Most readers, though, likely could benefit from some assistance.

For example, a couple of simple charts explaining the drugs that made Armstrong fly higher as he aged would help. So would a chronology of the terrible Texan's victories, and a map of the constantly discussed Tour de France. And can we get an index -- please?

Nor is the writing uniformly felicitous.

"He would blaze a trail towards El Dorado, the lucrative U.S. market, and like filings to a magnet the public would be pulled back to cycling." As The New Yorker pleads, block that metaphor!

On the same page: "the vested interests of cycling implored Lance to redeem the Tour and cleanse everybody with the sparkling pure waters of his urine samples."

The title, too, is puzzling. Yes, Armstrong's doping won him the Tour a record seven times, each occasion presumably a deadly sin in the eyes of cycling fanatic Walsh.

But how did Armstrong commit the other traditional sins? Walsh clearly demonstrates Armstrong's wrath and pride, but he leaves the reader to discover or infer examples of lust, gluttony, avarice, sloth and envy.

Seven Deadly Sins competes in a growing category of sports-cheating publishing.

To see it done well, readers could check a wonderful 2009 model, American Icon: The Fall of Roger Clemens and the Rise of Steroids in America's Pastime. It's a detailed and devastating account of Clemens' record-busting decade, thanks to a generous portfolio of illegal body-building substances, on baseball pitching mounds.

The authors, four New York Daily News writers, turn in a remarkably ego-free performance.

So although Seven Deadly Sins is not up to that championship standard, readers interested in its topic need not despair.

This is unlikely to be the last book about doping in sports. Can we label this growing non-fiction genre a subset of true crime?

Duncan McMonagle teaches journalism at Red River College.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 16, 2013 J9


Updated on Saturday, March 16, 2013 at 11:45 AM CDT: adds fact box

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