At the end of the 2010 World Cup, as the crowds found their way out of the cold of the Calabash, I bought two over-priced American beers in the marquee that was the stadium’s press centre and toasted the end of a tournament Africa may never see again in my lifetime. There was already talk of World Cup depression, the lost child feeling you have when the party is over but you are not done partying.
South Africans wanted that feeling to run forever. This young democracy needed the heroin spike of international acceptance that big sporting events bring. Phillip was gone and he’d only been here for a month. Bastard. You get used to the anti-climatic feeling at the end of tournaments as a sports writer. The comedown is always a steep fall, a mixture of relief and sadness at the end having arrived. Big tournaments are a buzz to report on. The day after the final day is always a strange one. What’s next? There’s always something next. You hope.
July 2 was World Sports Journalists Day, which came as a surprise to pretty much every sports hack I know. We didn’t know we had a whole day to ourselves. World Sports Journalists Day has been going on for two decades, around about the length of time I’ve been at The Star.
I’m pretty sure when I joined the paper no one pointed out that July 2 would be a day for celebrating being a sports writer, that there would be free beer, smiling subs, deadlines that could be stretched until after happy hour and more free beer.
It was one year ago today that Daryl Impey stood on the podium of the Tour de France as the first African to wear the yellow jersey, the biggest prize in cycling.
It was a moment for the continent to be proud of, the second time an African had tasted success in Montpellier during the Tour. In 2007, Robbie Hunter had become the first African to win a stage of the Tour there.
Those were days of wonder and pride for a little sport in the little country at the tip of the continent, the highest of highs for South African cycling, days of dreams and celebration. Hunter was the bulldog rider who fought his way to the top, Impey was the boy from the South who simply would not give up on a dream.
On Wednesday, Impey’s dream came crashing down around him when he announced he had tested positive for Probenecid at the South African time trial championships in February.
He had been due to ride the Tour de France for Orica GreenEdge, but he is now suspended from competition. Now Impey is in for the fight of his life. He is fighting for his career, for his honour, for his reputation and for his dream. He is fighting a battle so many never believed Impey would have to fight.
The news Impey had tested positive was a kick in the guts. Impey is a decent, generous and well-mannered young man from good cycling stock. He has overcome setbacks in his career – broken vertebrae and teams shutting down.
And he came through all of it with that determined smile and dry sense of humour. He is well liked and well respected in Europe.
But the taint of a positive drug test is hard to wash away. There have been too many in professional cycling over the years, too many big names who have taken the trust of sponsors, teammates and fans, and trampled on it.
Impey has already been judged and sentenced by many on the internet. They do not believe his protestations of innocence. They have heard them too many times before. The internet gives them the emotional distance to lash out with a viciousness and disregard for due process that is frightening.
Suddenly, those who had praised Impey not a year ago, now knew that he was dirty all along. Suddenly, Impey rode with Lance Armstrong, ergo he must be dirty. Speculation runs like wildfire in the mob mentality of the web.
The stark facts are these: Daryl Impey has tested positive. Daryl Impey is preparing to fight for his name. It is the hardest of fights. Very few doping cases are won by the athlete. Daryl Impey, his family and friends believe in his innocence.
For the sake of South African cycling, we can only hope justice is done.
A few minutes before 9am on Thursday, an email, short and with no frills, arrived from Cycling South Africa. “Men’s road team miss qualification for Commonwealth Games. Cycling South Africa received SASCOC’s (South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee) final verdict relating to the urgent appeal made by the cycling federation urging SASCOC to review selection to include the men’s road cycling team for the upcoming Commonwealth Games.
“The appeal, although considered, was not approved due to the fact that the individual ranking did not meet the agreed upon selection criteria. Cycling SA accepts the decision and will support those athletes who have been selected to represent our nation and country with pride. ENDS”
The madness of Luis Suarez – the biting, the baiting, the diving and the insulting of another man’s race – is borne of love and fear; the love of his wife and two children, and the fear of losing all that it has taken him to find the contentment of a family.
That’s one theory put forward by ESPN writer Wright Thompson who travelled to Uruguay to find some truth to the character behind the man, to discover a deeper story away from the fickleness of the tabloid headlines, the memes and the post-literate fatuous-ness of radio soundbites.