Blazin' Saddles

The public have tired of the Lance Armstrong story

25082012Armstrong

Guest blog by Mark Patterson -

The fall of Lance Armstrong is a sporting scandal that rocked the world. It undermines a generation of cycling, and throws an era of the sport into the mire. And it all came to a head on Oprah Winfrey’s show. It marries sport, celebrity, human tragedy and… have you noticed that quite a lot of people don’t care any more?

The media went to town on the interview circus this week, deploying the body language experts, asking the financial gurus what it all meant for Lance’s bank balance, and covering it with the forensic insight which was (with one or two famous exceptions) curiously absent from the story a decade ago when Armstrong was busy doping and winning.

The story, in many minds, is over. Armstrong is discredited. Disgraced. That didn’t happen this week – that happened when he stopped contesting the charges of the USADA last year. Or if not then, then when he was stripped of all seven Tour de France titles after the damning USADA report. There was no coming back from that.

This week’s confession doesn’t change any of that. That’s a box-ticking exercise for sponsors, for the sake of the Livestrong charity, for himself.

Armstrong wasn’t confessing anything more shocking than the sky being blue.

But still, with mawkish curiosity, we all sat down to see it happen. Or did we?

Perhaps not. As one observer put it on Twitter: “Getting the feeling that it is only sport journalists reporting and tweeting this Lance/Oprah story to each other. Everyone else is asleep.”

And as a look at comments on blogs and features across the internet will quickly prove, most have feel enough has been said about. Lance-a-lot, if you will.

BBC journalist Frank Keogh had an interesting take on the story: “Question asked in office earlier - is Lance Armstrong biggest sports news story ever? Nigel Adkins sacking got more hits on BBC website.”

And if you’re talking ratings, while Armstrong’s confession drew big numbers on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN channel, which broadcast the interview exclusively in the US, 300,000 more people tuned in to see Oprah talk to the family of recently-deceased singer Whitney Houston last year.

It happens. Sometimes the media care more about a news story than the public, and sometimes the opposite is true.

Unless you are an ardent cycling fan, or a journalist, why would you concern yourself with the minutiae of Lance-gate now?

The next step for the Armstrong story is whether he’s entirely ruined or just largely ruined. Whether cycling’s governing body, the UCI, is implicated in the whole sorry mess. Whether there is a ‘truth and reconciliation’ panel set up, and what else it might tell us about what went on in the darkest days of doping. It is highly unlikely that we will hear any subsequent revelations which will make our jaws drop closer to the floor.

You know what that sounds like? The Leveson Inquiry.

Remember the quiet build-up to the phone-hacking scandal? Those stories in the Guardian, the stonewall denials from the accused? Then, after months of innuendo there came a spell when, yes, it was the story. But then there was the Leveson Inquiry, further revelations that were, to the casual observer, a bit like the others, and by the time the report finally came out, it soon became a footnote.

The length of the investigation into phone-hacking created a fatigue in readers. That is often the way with sagas, no matter how important they started off as, or continue to be.

Many take the key points from a long-running story, and they move on with the bullet points, right or wrong, entrenched.

The media was occasionally – perhaps often – less than scrupulous. Fine. What’s going on in Syria is bad (obviously). Kevin Pietersen was out of line last summer (probably). Andy Murray is anti-England (well, no). Once instilled, it takes something extraordinary to shift these kinds of perceptions.

So it is with the statement: Lance was a cycling cheat.

And once you’ve established the ‘cheat’ part of that truth, does it really matter how big a cheat he was?

And in cycling. A sport which, in spite of its surge in popularity in this country, still plays second-fiddle to several others.

Perhaps the past tense of that truth is relevant here as well. He’s long-since retired. He’s not going to be troubling the commissaire of the Tour de France in future, and you aren’t going to see him pedalling down the Champs-Elysees again, juiced up or clean as a whistle(blower).

Of course this is an important news story, one that still has more twists and turns to take. But the general public has decided where we stand on Lance Armstrong, most of us have heard enough from him, and are waiting for him to cycle off into the Texan sunset.

And perhaps (if you’ll forgive the irony of this conclusion coming in an opinion piece on the subject), we’re waiting for all the opinion pieces to do something similar.