Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Armstrong comes a little cleaner - but he's still just as disgusting

“HE’S got no morals and he’s a disgusting human being.”
I really don’t know enough about Lance Armstrong – and neither, I suspect, does she – to endorse the first part of Nicole Cooke’s verdict on the man who may be sport’s biggest cheat. Any moral sense he may have is hard to discern from here, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Just, perhaps, that it’s a little different from mine or yours.
The second part of Cooke’s assessment would be hard to disagree with, though.
He certainly disgusts me. And nothing he said in his much-trumpeted “confession” to Oprah Winfrey lessened the depth of that disgust.
Serial liar, hardened cheat who gained fame, fortune and glory – not once, but repeatedly over several years – by the use of drugs that he knew were illegal.
Nothing he may say about “air in the tyres and water in the bottles” changes that.
His gaining of those rewards by illicit means deprived who knows which non-drugged riders of the opportunity to come by them fairly.
And then there is the bullying of team-mates, officials and journalists – those few, like David Walsh of the Sunday Times, who persisted in chasing him as well as the greater number who chose instead to report the lies they were told.
In a fairer world, Armstrong would be answering to his many and varied victims in a court of law not in the relative comfort of a celebrity TV interview.
In contrast to the unspeakable Armstrong, David Millar is one of the good guys.
He too is a confessed drug cheat. His reaction to being caught, though, was rather different from Armstrong’s.
Rather than years of aggressive denial, followed by a grudging and self-serving admission, he has spent the past eight and a half years campaigning to save other cyclists from going down the same sorry road as himself.
That cycling may now indeed be – as Millar optimistically says – one of the cleanest of all professional sports is at least in part down to his efforts.
Unlike Armstrong, he’s a nice guy too – as is shown by his response to Armstrong’s belated and partial confession.
“I do feel for him,” Millar said. “His life is never going to be the same. He’s got kids and they’re going to have to go to school. A couple of years ago their dad was the best in the world and now he’s a pariah.”
For that reason, I can sympathise with the kids. But I wouldn’t go as far as Millar in empathising with their dad.
Like Cooke, British gold medal-winner on the cycling track at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, I have more sympathy with the riders forced out of the sport because they refused to join the drug culture.
In fact, one thing Armstrong told Oprah left me feeling if anything more disgusted by him, rather than less.
It was his claim that he only became a bully after being diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996.
As if that made it all right.
As if that justified his decision to give his body a great deal more abuse – and pressurise others into doing likewise.
It was not just a nauseating attempt at emotional blackmail, which he is something of a specialist in.
It was also an outrageous slur on all those cancer victims who have not responded to the diagnosis by mutating into disgusting human beings.

NOT so long ago I was still one of that dwindling number of people who had never seen Les Mis. Now I’ve seen it on the West End stage and the movie screen and am very much looking forward to next month’s production in Woodbridge.
I confidently expect the Farlingaye High School pupils to outperform nearly all the film’s stars in the vocal department.
The biggest surprise in the film was the superb performance by Anne Hathaway in the crucial, heartstring-tugging role of Fantine.
Elsewhere, the decision of director Tom Hooper to cast actors rather than singers in what is actually an opera is not always so well vindicated.
In the central roles of Valjean and Javert, Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe prove they can act and sing. Unfortunately, they only do one of those things each.
Crowe sings surprisingly well; Jackman, a fine actor, is no surprise at all.
Among the lesser roles, most are actually very good, while Sacha Baron Cohen is unspeakably awful as Thenardier. You can unspeak that in either the nasal drawl of a cod-Jewish villain or an Allo Allo mock French accent. He can’t decide which to go with, either.
Even worse is a camera that can’t keep still. If you’re not swooping round and round the performers at sickening speed, you’re either peering down from the sky or up from the floor at a crazy angle.
I’m not sure why it should be, but some of the plot’s less convincing twists seem less preposterous on stage than on screen. And you don’t get motion-sickness in the theatre, or the school hall, either.


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