London – When they make the movie of Lance Armstrong’s life, the blockbusting scene will feature a conversation between the fallen hero and Luke, his 13-year-old son. Armstrong gave us a preview in the course of his chat with Oprah Winfrey the other evening.
It seems that other kids had been making allegations about Luke’s dad, and the son had defended his father.
Recalling the moment, Armstrong sniffed, looked to the heavens. “I said, ‘Don’t defend me any more. Don’t’.”
There was a poignant pause as he tried to squeeze a tear. Then, voice quivering, he said: “Just say, ‘Hey, my dad said he was sorry’.”
Now for all I know, the tale may be true. But the fact that it is told by a shrewd, ruthless, exploitative bully who is also a pathological liar does not enhance its credibility.
No matter. Shot in soft focus, accompanied by soothing strings, it will have them handing over their dollars from Pittsburgh to Peoria. And by that time, Armstrong may need every cent of those box-office takings.
The questions from Oprah were every bit as bogus as we feared. Psycho-babble abounded as the inquisitor ran through her Hollywood repertoire: “How has it changed the way you see yourself? Did this help you become a better human being? Are you now in a space where you’re not just apologising but you can begin to feel how you shattered other people’s lives? Are you in that space yet?”
Desperate stuff, yet Armstrong answered in kind, as if his freedom depended on his responses. As, indeed, it should have done.
After all, this is a man who cheated his way to seven Tour de France victories, a man who became unimaginably wealthy on the back of those counterfeit successes and a man who, therefore, accumulated a mountain of money under palpably false pretences.
I found myself recalling those Pakistan cricketers accused of spot-fixing. They finished up in the dock at Southwark Crown Court. They didn’t get to swap docile inanities with Jeremy Kyle.
But, shamelessly calculating and rampantly insincere, Armstrong was indulged by the triviality of the format. His contradictions went unchallenged, his accomplices went unnamed. Occasionally he would refer to himself in the third person, as if he might be absolved, as if the other guy was to blame.
He referred to the departure of his sponsors as “the $75million day” and he made it sound like a boast. It was also the reaction of one who needs to make money before his notoriety fades.
He did concede that he was sorry for what had happened, but as the Irish writer, Paul Kimmage, said: “Sure he’s sorry. Sorry he got caught.”
Kimmage was one of a tiny handful of brave journalists who had defied Armstrong and had suffered for their pains. But as the interview concluded, such suffering seemed a distant consideration. For Oprah was imparting a blessing.
“Thank you for trusting me to do this,” she told him. “The truth will set you free.” They shook hands, and Oprah whispered in a breathless, little girl voice: “Thank you.” Lance Armstrong gave a tight half-smile. He may have been thinking about the movie. Could Oprah be persuaded to play herself? They’d love it in Peoria.
Cue the music. Run the credits. Pass the sick-bag. – Mail on Sunday