Saturday week ago we dwelt in blazing sunshine and I blogged, tongue cheek I admit, it would be the last time this season we would see sun, shades and shorts at Ravenhill.
I now admit to being possibly closer to the truth than I cared to believe.
When will it end? The cloud hangs low over the landscape, darkness at dawn and the seemingly perpetual pitter, patter of rain. It’s Friday 23rd August, 8 hours before Ulster play their last friendly prior to the start of the PRO12 and what a difference a week makes in rugby.
Saw but did not Meet
Made it to the game last Friday night and spotted several celebrities, such as the Editor of this esteemed site, briefly home from exile in Galway.
Saw some bizarrely attired folk looking like French impressionist artists, who had mistakenly bought tickets for the wrong event. Sporting ‘straw’ hats, boot polish smeared on as sideburns and across the upper lip, like lipstick gone wrong and clothes bought from Oxfam, Kimble and company where out to create an impression.
Someone mentioned the four amigos but it was left to Kimble to explain it all.
“We want to give you inspiration for your blog”, he muttered conspiratorially.
I would like to state unequivocally that I’m not in the business of giving folk cheap publicity by mentioning them in my blog.
Just time to mention the character who interrupted me when I was talking to Mr.Bill and then repeated the feat when I was chatting to the esteemed Kimble.
LA’s Boat Comes In
Lance Armstrong, cycling’s long time sporting icon, conceded defeat to the USADA in not fighting their lifetime ban and the deletion of his sporting titles.
Says Armstrong: “I know who won those seven Tours, my teammates know who won those seven Tours, and everyone I competed against knows who won those seven Tours. We all raced together. For three weeks over the same roads, the same mountains, and against all the weather and elements that we had to confront. There were no shortcuts, there was no special treatment. The same courses, the same rules. The toughest event in the world where the strongest man wins. Nobody can ever change that. Especially not Travis Tygart.”
Lance Armstrong transcended the sport of cycling. Many non cycle followers know him as the guy who fought cancer and returned to race stronger than ever, winning the sport’s Premier competition, the Tour De France, a record 7 times.
Numerous books were written about him and some against him. He set up a cancer foundation which has raised 100’s of millions for cancer awareness and he tread the celebrity circuit were few other cyclists have featured.
Many will have seen the knight in shining armour side of him in cancer awareness fund raising campaign, but also filtering through the media and those who dared to speak up were the stories of strong arm tactics in the peloton backed up outside the peloton by his lawyers against whoever dared to question his behaviour.
Many of the guys he refers to as having raced together over the roads, mountains and through all kinds of weather are discredited. Some are shambolic wrecks seeking redemption. Guys like Floyd Landis, lived the lie, tasted the glory and fooled most of the people most of the time.
Many of them are now known to have doped to gain sporting credence.
Lance has stood above them all proclaiming himself to be clean even though he routinely beat, hands down, guys who were on performance enhancing drugs.
Even now Lance Armstrong tries to persuade he is the victim. Many will take no joy in seeing such a high profile sportsman run out of town by having his titles stripped from him after such a high profile career.
Equally many will see the immorality in the longevity of Armstrong’s attempts to keep a clean public face contrary to lie being lived behind that public facade.
USADA’s CEO who has been accused of a witch hunt against Armstrong sums it up well:
“It is a sad day for all of us who love sport and our athletic heroes,” Tygart stated today following Armstrong’s public pronouncement. “This is a heartbreaking example of how the win-at-all-costs culture of sport, if left unchecked, will overtake fair, safe and honest competition, but for clean athletes, it is a reassuring reminder that there is hope for future generations to compete on a level playing field without the use of performance-enhancing drugs.”
What Does Win at all Costs Mean?
I have never warmed to Armstrong, he has come across as the archetypal ‘win at all costs’ American, aggressive with an attitude that is less than human.
He epitomises the American aggression that comes with high profile sport.
They are not the only nation of course, when you think of the systematic doping of East European athletes during the 80’s for example but they are ones we see on our TV screens most of the time, punching the air in celebration, rattling their sports equipment in anger when they fail.
Most people want to win when they compete, that is the essence of competition, whether it is competing against yourself and your own psychology or against others.
As the rewards for sporting achievement grow ever higher, so the pressures to win expand.
The Rubicon Between ‘Cheating’ and Systematic Abuse
Rugby is as good as an example as any. I saw guys stamped on so hard they gave up the game. Was that a line crossed? I think it was. No sport is worth playing or competing in if the outcome is dictated by outright cheating, whether it be violence or the use of illegal performance enhancement.
Rugby also encompasses the other side of ‘cheating’ with its laws open to being stretched beyond their designated limits. Any openside wing forward worth their wages ‘cheats’ by this means and one can take the moral high ground and say all bending of the rules and laws is wrong however minor it may be.
It is accepted that sports people will stretch the boundaries of the rules to gain that fraction of a second, that millimetre of distance that will make all the difference.
What makes Armstrong and his ilk stand out is they have crossed the line where stretching the rules has flourished into full blown and systematic abuse of the sporting ethos.
This is the win at all costs mentality rounded up and turned into a monster of such proportions that lives have been ruined and careers stymied by the pursuit of personal glory by foul means.
By all means compete. At the end of a sporting career there will come a time when guys like Armstrong will sit down by the fire side alone with a drink in hand and look back and ask was it worth it?
The systematic abuse of the body, the pillaging of other peoples sporting lives and the answer my friend, I suspect may well be no.
All top level sportsmen suddenly or slowly reach a realisation that there is life outside the sporting bubble which has to be lived.