I like sport and I like books but one thing I generally do not like at all is sports books.
There’s that little matter of sportsmen and women writing autobiographies for the same reasons they go to open a carpet factory or wear a particular watch: it pays.
They don’t realise books are something special. They are about truth.
Years ago, I read Lance Armstrong’s first book, It’s Not About The Bike. I looked at it again when he finally admitted his doping, and there it was in black and white: a denial.
That, for me, was the worst part. I don’t mind that he denied it on television and in the printed media. I expected that. But in a book? He didn’t have to write that book, or any of its sequels. No one made him, although his agent and bank manager were probably very happy.
But to tell lies in a book that will be around for longer than the writer? It shouldn’t happen.
I had previously read two other books on the subject of Lance Armstrong and doping: Tyler Hamilton’s The Secret Race, and Seven Deadly Sins by David Walsh. Hamilton’s is the best, but Walsh, the Sunday Times journalist who did as much as anyone to expose the scandal, also wrote a decent book, although his hatred of Armstrong came across a little too strongly for me.
Emma O’Reilly’s The Race to Truth is certainly not in their class. It is nowhere near as well written as the other two and in the early parts at least, dwells on matters which don’t particularly interest me.
However, by the time I’d finished it, I realised it had something to set it apart from those other two. O’Reilly suffered as much as anyone from Armstrong’s behaviour – he falsely called her a whore and an alcoholic in a court deposition – but today she doesn’t hate him for it. She remembers how well they got on when the going was good, and has accepted his apologies and recognises that the world, especially that of cycling, is a hard and dirty place.
In fact one of the most interesting aspects of the book is the tales of how Walsh himself used her, and did very nicely out of it himself. When she first spoke to the Sunday Times’ journalist, she was under the impression his book, LA Confidentiel, would be about the whole problem of doping in cycling, not just Armstrong, and that she would one of a number of sources for his first book on the subject. In fact, she was the only one to be named. Facts he somehow failed to make sure she understood.
I see this as the necessary and inevitable tactics of a man who at least had right on his side, but if I was O’Reilly I’d see him as another person just out for himself.
So, not the greatest book ever written but O’Reilly reminded me that there’s always another side to an argument, in fact many sides, and her view of the whole Armstrong affair is probably as mature and wise as you will find.
Am I right, or am I talking rubbish?