David Walsh - Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong, Tuesday 19th March
Four-time Irish and three-time UK Sportswriter of the year, David Walsh has been one of the most respected sports journalists of the last 30 years. In the Sheldonian Theatre, he tells us his remarkable story of how a man now so regarded came to be known as the 'Little f-ing Troll', of where he found solace when he became a pariah, and his eventual modest vindication with the outing of the most determined, successful and notorious drugs cheat that sport has ever seen.
David Walsh of The Sunday Times is the man who spent the last 13 years tirelessly trying to prove correct a hunch; that Lance Armstrong was a cheat and his fairytale story a lie. He begins his own story long before he encountered Lance Armstrong, bringing us back to the very beginning of his career. By his own admission David Walsh began as less of a sports journalist than a "fan with a typewriter". He would attend events with the enthusiasm and engagement of a supporter, and report on it later. It was the 1996 Atlanta Olympics though that would end his fantasy and plant the doubt and spawn the analytical approach that would lead Walsh through the rest of his career. Ireland's superstar success story of the '96 games, Michelle Smith, came from nowhere to win 3 gold medals in the pool (which she still holds). The feat was so unbelievable that it just couldn't be true. Years later she would be banned under anti-doping legislation and all but erased from the history books. This episode would bring about a shift in perspective for the young Irish writer.
It was the second day of the 1999 Tour de France when Walsh first decided, on not much more than a strong gut instinct, that Lance Armstrong was doping. Despite previous winners being proved to have been doping, the Tour de France stage times just kept tumbling. As Christophe Bassons - a rare truthful voice within the peloton - put it, it was as if France had become one giant descent. Walsh spent the next 13 years hunting down his proof against the greatest fraud in sport, while encountering vicious personal attacks on his character and constant threats of litigation, until the final damning verdict of the US Anti-Doping Agency in 2012.
David Walsh spoke with intelligence and integrity to an audience with a mixed prior knowledge of cycling. His story is enthralling and triumphant, and I pity whoever he goes after next. A modern day hero finally getting his plaudits. I can't wait to read the book.