The heroic cyclist and a berk/cow

Tim Black says Lance Armstrong should still be admired, and Sally Bercow most certainly should not.

Zero: Sally Bercow

‘Is it a berk? Is it a cow? No it’s Sally Bercow.’ When Katie Price, aka cement-voiced glamour model Jordan, penned that little triplet in her Sun on Sunday column, she gave vent to a nation’s annoyance. The Bercow is impossibly irritating. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but because The Bercow married John Bercow, the first Speaker of the House of Commons to come from Lilliput, she has unfortunately been granted the media platform on which to parade her asininity.

The first casualty in The Rise of The Bercow has been the importance of her husband’s public role, something consistently demeaned by her belief that her celebrity profile is more important. The examples are numerous: an Evening Standard photoshoot, in which The Bercow posed naked, save, thankfully, for a bedsheet; a short-lived appearance on Celebrity Big Brother in 2011 in which she pledged to ‘stick two fingers up to the establishment’ (the public booted her out at the first opportunity); compulsive indiscretion in 2009, when she talked pointlessly about boozing and pulling… All of these examples show how seriously Bercow takes the parliamentary world from which she parasitically draws her zzzzz-list celebrity.

But The Bercow’s love of the The Bercow is not enough in and of itself to win her a zero of the month. No, what really sticks in the craw is her high-profile willingness, like that of some toadying schoolgirl, to join in the most degraded pursuits of the right-thinking classes. Name the conformist bandwagon, and The Bercow will be sure to have hopped aboard. There she was, during the papal visit to Britain in 2010, criticising the Catholic Church for not sharing the same liberal-ish beliefs as the Guardian; there she was last year celebrating the humiliation of Rupert Murdoch as a victory for… who knows?; and there she is again, right now, peddling the profoundly corrosive myth that child abuse is rife in Britain today.

A couple of weeks ago, she seemed particularly titillated, as did other members of the liberal elite, by the idea that ‘an unnamed senior Conservative from the Thatcher era’ (named online as Lord McAlpine) was about to be accused of being a paedophile by BBC’s Newsnight. So, as the story broke like a wave of shit across the Twitteresphere, The Bercow could be found riding it for all it was worth. She tweeted: ‘Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *Innocent face*’ This was not as clever as The Bercow clearly thought it was. As it turned out, the reason why Lord McAlpine was having his name dragged through the mud, or ‘trending’ as The Bercow put it, was because of silly, credulous child abuse-obsessed pillocks like The Bercow and Guardian columnist George Monbiot – people, that is, who think rumour and innuendo ought to be taken for fact. *Sad face*.

Not that the emergence of the truth – Lord McAlpine was misidentified by the alleged victim – prompted much in the way of a mea culpa from The Bercow. Far from it. ‘Wish the focus would shift back on to y’know, *child abuse*’, she tweeted, ‘not just BBC and libel threats’. That it is this very focus on child abuse, this conviction that it is rife but hidden by conspiracy and complicity, that fuelled the naming and shaming of an innocent man seems to have escaped The Bercow’s attention. Now, if only The Bercow would stop seeking ours…

Hero: Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong? A hero? There are a very few right now who would answer in the affirmative. The US Anti-Doping Agency’s (USADA’s) 1,000-page report on why Armstrong is a drug-taking cheat have seen to that.

But, incredible as it may seem, there is still a case to be made for Armstrong being worthy of admiration rather than invective. Remember, this was the man who in 1996 won his 50-50 battle with testicular cancer before returning to top-level professional cycling a little over a year later. This was the man who in 1999 became only the second American to win the Tour de France. This, above all, was the man who then went on to win a head-shaking seven consecutive Tour de France titles. As a sporting achievement, Armstrong’s was right up there.

But, of course, none of that is seen to matter now. Armstrong’s success has been exposed as a pharmaceutically inspired deceit, and the achievements have been fatally undermined.

Or have they? For a start, Armstrong’s trial, such as it was, was not exactly fair. It was marked, rather, by distinct unfairness. Perhaps things would have been different if the original federal investigation into allegations against Armstrong – including wire fraud and drug distribution – had gone to trial at a federal court, with its clear emphasis on due process. But, due to insufficient evidence, the federal authorities dropped the case in February this year, leaving the USADA to pursue Armstrong in is own far less rigorous, far less testing court of arbitration. There, Armstrong had no right to cross-examine those making the allegations, no right to test the credibility of the evidence. For the USADA, scripted affidavits would suffice as proof. To add injustice to injustice, only after the USADA had declared him guilty on the basis of untested, unquestioned evidence, did 24 out of the 26 testifying against Armstrong actually sign off their witness statements. His guilt literally predated the proof.

That Armstrong may indeed be the witch the USADA has judged him to be, that Armstrong may indeed float rather than sink in the USADA’s very own Salem, does not vindicate the methods by which the verdict was reached.

But more importantly, does the likely fact that Armstrong took drugs lessen his achievement? The steroids, the blood doping, the cortisone injections, may have allowed him to push his body to its limits, allowing him to train harder and recover quicker, but they didn’t make Armstrong a winner. As one-time teammate, doper and eventual snitch, Tyler Hamilton, put it: ‘[Drugs] granted the ability to suffer more; to push yourself farther and harder than you’d ever imagined, in both racing and training.’ Races, he continues, ‘weren’t rolls of the genetic dice, or who happened to be on form that day. They didn’t depend on who you were. They depended on what you did – how hard you worked, how attentive and professional you were in your preparation.’

And that was the thing about Armstrong – his victories were all down to him, his willingness to prepare more, to work more, to suffer more. In the night sky of doped-up cyclists during the 1990s and early 2000s, Armstrong still shone far brighter than all the rest. Part drug-fuelled he may have been, but Armstrong remains all hero.

Tim Black is senior writer at spiked.


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