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Book Review : Seven Deadly Sins - Saurabh Kumar Shahi - The Sunday Indian
 
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Monday, October 23, 2017
 
 

Book Review : Seven Deadly Sins

 

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SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | Issue Dated: November 30, -0001, New Delhi
Tags : Seven Deadly Sins | Book reviews | David Walsh | Simon & Schuster's book |
 

Somewhere in the middle of this 430- page exposé of Lance Armstrong, journalist David Walsh recounts the story of his son, John, who died when he was all of twelve. Never afraid of asking questions and never holding anything so sacrosanct as to believe in it unquestionably, John once had a tiff with his teacher at his school. In the Bible class, where the nativity story was being recounted, his teacher insisted how Joseph and Mary lived a modest life. Confused and intrigued in equal parts, Walsh’s son shot back, “If they were so poor, what did they do with the gold they were given by the three wise men?” Heartbreaking as it might sound in retrospect, it tells us something about the Walsh family.

The Lance Armstrong saga can safely be adjudged as the biggest saga of triumph and eventual downfall in the history of sports in living memory. The story of a cyclist who fought and recovered from testicular cancer and went on to win a record seven Tour de France titles, and then followed it with a bestseller biography and a behemoth of a charitable organisation, appeared too good to be true to many. However, it needed immense courage to delve deeper. And one person who did that, David Walsh, the Irishman who works as the Sunday Times’ chief sports writer, found out that the going was tough. “He’s not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy,” he had commented in his measured understatement. In unearthing the truth, he did one heck of a job. And, Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit Of Lance Armstrong is the product of that perseverance.

Completed a couple of months after the release of USADA’s ‘reasoned decision’ document that accused, with solid evidence, that Armstrong was the ringleader of “the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping program that sport has ever seen”, the book traces Walsh’s rather elongated and difficult pursuit to unearth what many say was the single biggest cover-up in the history of cycling.

Readers will benefit to know that this is not Walsh’s first book on this topic. It is his third. He has penned L.A. Confidential: The Secrets of Lance Armstrong and From Lance to Landis: Inside the American Doping Controversy at the Tour de France, both dealing with the same issue. However, it has not been easy to pursue this case. Because of stringent libel laws in the UK, the books attracted an unusual amount of litigation, a few leading to subpoena as well.

The book describes the troublesome period, including how it all started. Walsh admits that he was kind of soft in his early career, especially when he started covering Tour de France in 1982, partly because he loved the sport and partly because he loved the sportsmen, his compatriots, Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche. And since he was writing the biography of Sean Kelly, he chose to under-report the clear evidence of doping on Kelly’s part. Similarly, he was mighty impressed by Armstrong during his early stint and confessed that he wanted to like him.  “He had something inside that made him unlike any other young sportsman I had met. Radioactivity,” he writes.

However, something changed after the Michelle Smith controversy during Atlanta Olympics. When the ace swimmer was caught tampering with her urine sample after a splendid performance, Walsh and other journalists started to see performances more cynically. By the end of the decade, that cynicism grew into scepticism and the first sportsperson that caught his radar was Armstrong.

He was the first to report that Armstrong had worked with tainted Dr Ferrari. The report set the world against him. He was called names and variously referred by Armstrong, his entourage as well as the fraternity as a “fucking little troll” and “the worst journalist in the world”.

It was around this time that brought names like Paul Kimmage, Betsy Andreu, Greg LeMond, Pierre Ballester and Emma O’Reilly to the forefront and started building evidence against Armstrong.

Though at times it might appear vindictive, the book is a great work of investigative journalism that tested the limits of the writer’s credibility, conviction and more importantly perseverance. It is not without it flaws though. The later chapters appear to have been completed in haste.  Also, while much of the book is based on painstakingly gathered primary evidence, the last section is dependent mostly on secondary sources.

However, all these in no way hamper the book’s flow.  Seven Deadly Sins might be an exercise in heartbreak; but it is damn good at that.



 

David Walsh
Simon & Schuster
Edition: Paperback
ISBN: 978-1-47112-754-0
Pages:  430 
Price: Rs 499

 

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017