Journalist David Walsh wasn’t alone in his suspicions about Lance Armstrong, but he was one of the few who dared voice them. For 13 years, the Irishman pursued his theory that Lance was doping, but the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s recent announcement finally vindicated his long-held beliefs with hard evidence.
Walsh first suspected that Armstrong of doping when the cyclist reacted irascibly in 1999 when a young French competitor claimed that all the top riders were doping. Armstrong bullied the Frenchman out of the race, and Walsh’s ears perked. “My feeling at that moment was that a clean rider wouldn’t have done that,” he told the Press Gazette. “It was pretty obvious to me that Armstrong was doping – not from any evidence I had but from the way he behaved.”
On the day Armstrong won his first of seven Tour de France titles, Walsh wrote in The Sunday Times, “This afternoon I will be keeping my arms by my side, because I’m not sure this is something we should be applauding.”
Flustered, Armstrong later invited the journalist to a private interview. As Walsh told the Press Gazette:
“He rang me because he knew I was asking a lot of questions and he thought that if I come along, and he’s really nice to me, and he gives me a one-on-one interview, I’ll be as happy as every other journalist and I’ll become his friend.”
Walsh, however, refused to talk about anything other than doping during the interview, which, not surprisingly, turned out to be the last time Armstrong invited him to speak in a one-on-one setting.
While Walsh published two books questioning Armstrong’s story, outlets such as the BBC refused to pursue Walsh’s leads because, he says, they did not want to lose Armstrong as a source.
Walsh suspects he saw through Armstrong’s front because the cyclist’s legend and allure extended not just to viewers but to journalists, too. Fellow journalists became “fans with typewriters,” while Walsh couldn’t shake the feeling that Armstrong’s victory lacked validity and integrity. Walsh continued:
“People always used to say that I was the cynic. You might find this strange, but I’m the only one who isn’t cynical, because all the guys who had a sense that he was cheating but thought it was too much trouble to investigate it, that it would make their lives messy – to me they are the cynics.”
Journalists like the Associated Press’ John Leicester who did not pick up on or voice concerns about Armstrong are now lamenting their unwillingness to cause waves. Leicester writes for AP:
Was I negligent, even willfully blind? I’d like to think not. I heard the mounting drumbeat of suspicion that surrounded Armstrong’s ever-longer string of wins and mentioned it in reports from the Tour, which I covered from 2003-2006. But, in light of USADA’s findings, I now wish that I had reported the doubts more prominently. Hindsight is very illuminating.
I also read the work of colleagues—David Walsh, Pierre Ballester, Damien Ressiot and others—who defied Armstrong’s myth-making, power and lawyers, dug deeply, and produced books and reports alleging or suggesting he doped. They’re among the few who emerge from all this with enhanced reputations.
More from Smithsonian.com: