May the best cheat win?

by Listener Archive / 10 November, 2012
Has the castle of sand built by cycling’s champion doper finally collapsed?
May the best cheat win

I have held off writing about the Lance Armstrong saga because it’s like one of those movies that ain’t over till they’re over; that is, until the interminable credits have rolled and the screen has gone blank. Time after time, the hero and the audience think it’s done and dusted, but the villain keeps coming back from the dead and having to be killed off all over again. The benchmark here is the sensationally malevolent Max Cady (Robert De Niro) in Martin Scorsese’s 1991 remake of Cape Fear. After Cady’s third or fourth resurrection, you are ready to add him to the very select group that would survive nuclear war: cockroaches, Keith Richards and, according to Hillary Clinton, our very own Helen Clark.

There is a real-life precedent: the “Mad Monk” Grigori Rasputin who held sway in the Tsarist court during World War I. Convinced that Rasputin was taking liberties with the Russian empire (not to mention many society ladies), a group of nobles lured him to their ringleader’s palace and embarked on a laborious assassination.

According to legend, they tricked Rasputin into ingesting enough cyanide to kill five men. When that had no noticeable effect, they shot him and left him for dead, only to discover later that he was in fact undead. They shot him a few more times, clubbed him unconscious, tied him up, wrapped him in carpet and dumped him in a freezing river. Although managing to free himself, Rasputin – like Max Cady – finally went to a watery grave. Armstrong had passed so many drug tests, withstood so much scepticism and shrugged off so many eye-witness allegations that it was easy to assume he was either a victim of persecution or somehow untouchable. But in the end, his fortress of denial, defiance and legal bullying was a castle built on sand.

To the casual observer, professional road cycling seems hopelessly corrupt, so some may be tempted to take the view that if everyone’s doing it, what does it matter? May the best cheat win. Leaving aside the moral issue, that assumes doping is a level playing field, which it isn’t: the cheat with the most potent juice and/or best doctors wins. That’s not sport in any way, shape or form; that’s chemistry.


As the Guardian’s obituary pointed out, Andy Mulligan’s entry in Who’s Who described him as a businessman, diplomat, foreign correspondent, public relations consultant, broadcaster and publisher, but omitted to mention that he was also a very good rugby player. He toured this country with the 1959 British Lions team that lost the series 3-1 to the Wilson Whineray-led All Blacks. When the All Blacks toured Europe in 1963/64, Whineray was still captain, but Mulligan had decamped to the press box. In his tour book, Mulligan provided a contemporary fellow international’s assessment of a great figure in New Zealand rugby who is sadly no longer with us.

“Wilson Whineray was a colossus this winter, generally rated the finest captain and prop forward around the field to visit the home countries and France. “He was a fine after-dinner speaker, brilliant in the way he used the press as a medium to advertise all that was best about the team. The dirty linen stayed in the laundry bag. The team played like a machine without its driver when he was absent. He was all and everything to the All Blacks, yet modest, quiet spoken, frank and with strong opinions of his own.” Mulligan concluded with a prescient quote from Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales: “A verray parfit gentil knyghte”.
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