By all accounts, it sounds as though Armstrong was a nasty, bullying, vindictive piece of work. This is why, when he fell from grace, few people were willing to stand up for him and many delighted in his comeuppance. Had he simply been a cyclist who doped along with everyone else and got caught, he’d have had a good chance of re-ingratiating himself with the fans and public.
In the podcast, Armstrong deals with the above charge in a way which makes perfect sense, at least to me. He says the attitude required to win at all costs when on the bike can be all-consuming; he says in order to beat a competitor he will need to hate the guy, and find something to hate him for, even if he actually quite likes him. He said the problem is, when you get off the bike after the race, you need to remind yourself you don’t actually hate him. He and Rogan discuss the theory that top-level performers are often slightly mad, and come to the agreement there is probably some truth to it. Armstrong said his ruthless, take-no-prisoners attitude served him brilliantly when on the bike, but was his downfall when he applied it to the doping accusations and other areas of his non-racing life.
I can understand this, and I expect a similar thing happened with Tiger Woods who’s catastrophic fall from the pinnacle of golf was initiated by his wife finding out about his extra-marital affairs, and her subsequent reaction. Here’s a recent article on Tiger’s early years:
Benedict, a New York Times bestselling author, and Keteyian, an 11-time Emmy Award winning CBS contributor, write that Tiger’s relationship with his father is responsible for his astonishing success – but also laid the roots for his ruin.
Earl subjected his son to psychological warfare in his youth and called him a ‘little n*****’ during brutal training sessions to improve his golf game.
But another lesson that Earl appears to have taught his son was about how to behave around women.
According to the book, Earl’s womanizing was ‘well known’ to his family and that Tiger would break down in tears on the phone to friends talking about how he cheated on Kultida, his mother.
Earl’s habits included drinking, smoking and pornography that ‘drove a wedge between him and his family’.
So you have a highly talented kid driven incredibly hard to succeed by his father and subjected to forms of abuse which he channels into his sport. As a recipe for becoming one of the greatest golfers of all time it obviously worked wonders, but left him utterly unable to manage when things started to fall apart around him. Landing in a situation where the “work doubly hard and win at all costs” mentality is no use and only makes things worse, like Armstrong he found that’s all he knew.
I can relate to this. A few years back I went on a course entitled Managing Personal Relations and one of the things I learned about myself is the talents which make me a half-decent project engineer are ill-applied to personal relationships. Engineering is a subject which deals mostly with facts, logic and demonstrations of both. If you want to win an argument in the engineering world, you must overcome the opposition with superior facts and logic, demonstrated simply. Coupled with this, you often need to drive results by applying bone-headed determination and sheer force of will. Both are appalling ways to try to resolve personal, human issues which you face either at work or outside, and the training course was designed firstly to show where we were going wrong, and secondly to fix them and offer alternatives. It was probably the best training course I’ve done, and it made me realise my dealings with people needed to change as browbeating people into seeing my superior logic was not going to result in successful relationships – especially where women are concerned!
I expect, just as STEM folk have to learn to deal with non-STEM folk in order to maintain good relations, top-level sportsmen have to adjust their attitudes when not competing. I imagine those who participate in the more individualistic sports, like cycling and golf, find this harder than pure team players.