City Desk

Please: No More Sally Jenkins Columns on Lance Armstrong

If there was one glorious thing about the now-ended retirement of Lance Armstrong from cycling, it was that Sally Jenkins couldn't use the column space of the Washington Post to blow sweet nothings to this amazing, brave, game, brick house of a man. Jenkins, of course, is the prominent Post sports columnist who a decade ago started writing books not about Armstrong or on Armstrong, but with Armstrong.

The distinction means everything. In the years since the collaboration started, Jenkins has proudly written her conflict of interest all over every Armstrong column she can get by her editors. Yes, the Post does routinely disclose the conflict, which gets the reader absolutely nowhere. Herewith just a few excerpts—there's much, much more, but it all sounds the same—from Jenkins' columnar hero worship, starting with the most recent iteration:

July 13, 2009: This Tour by rights should have been all about Contador, who is clearly, incontrovertibly the next great. Instead here is this grizzled boot-faced Texan hanging around, suggesting he's still raw and it's not quite his time yet. Armstrong even said on Sunday he might ride in one more Tour.

I don't know how all this will turn out, but I'll make one prediction: Contador may resent it right now, but in years to come he'll appreciate the fact he rode as an equal with Armstrong in this race. Love him, hate him, or suspect him, Armstrong is a competitor of towering mental strength and cuts an indelible figure of bravado on the bike when he dances above it, as someone once remarked, like a cat climbing a tree. Contador will be glad that he had at least one chance to measure himself against that.

July 10, 2009: The e-mail that came from Lance Armstrong was cryptic, as always. "It's happening," he wrote.
By it, he meant everything: the fruition of his un-retirement, the promising liveliness in his legs, his menacing creep up the standings of the Tour de France, from 10th to second by a fraction, and the international frenzy he has caused by contending again at the age of almost 38.

"So what are you going to do next to electrify the world?" I asked. "Go over Niagara Falls in a barrel?" He'd probably race the water to the bottom.

"Ha," he replied.

In fact, the next thing Armstrong is likely to do is take the lead in the Tour. One thing I know about Armstrong, my friend and book collaborator of a decade now, is how much he loves a confrontation.

July 26, 2004: It will be interesting now to see whether Armstrong remains motivated. He's spent so much of his life in embattled striving, whether in fighting illness, or competing in the grueling Tour. For years, Armstrong has carefully weighed every morsel of pasta he put in his mouth, and denied himself basic comforts in pursuit of Tour titles.

He has spent months away from his family, lived an almost monkish life. He has elevated the race with cutting-edge training methods and technology, turning it into an almost scientific undertaking. He has probably made the race look too easy. Few people, perhaps no one, can understand the toll the race has taken on him. The thinness of his face and the jutting of his cheekbones only suggest it.

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  • sally jenkins

    I know, I know. Totally fair comment. I'm uneasy about it myself, but I've discussed it with editors, and the idea is to try to give readers insight, not just mouth sweet nothings. By the way, tell Dave McKenna it's only two books with Armstrong, not "several." Hopefully, the last column was as much about Alberto Contador as Armstrong, and their totally weird dynamic, which is like watching Bette Davis and Joan Crawford try to push eachother down flights of stairs.

  • Faithful Post Reader

    Well at least Sally has the guts to post a comment! I agree with Wemple though: too much hero worship. Which is even more surprising coming from Sally who generally takes a contrarian view of sports folks. I like her columns, I like her take on things sport for the most part but think the Lance puff pieces are too much. BTW: Does his wife really think he's such a saint?

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  • Mike

    I like Sally's insight, in fact, I look forward to her articles. She has a deeper understanding of one of the most private individuals in all of sport. Everyone thinks they "know" Lance, but very few actually do. He does not let a lot of people into that inner circle. On any given day during this tour, there are over 50 new articles written about Lance all based on speculation, hearsay, and rumor. I can usually get the same if not better info from his Twitter feed. But Sally has the insight and a direct line to Lance that I desire. Keep ‘em coming Sally!!!

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  • Steve Klein

    Can you ride a bike?
    No one offers better insight into Armstrong than Jenkins.
    The Post is totally transparent about the Jenkins-Armstrong relationship.
    I seem to remember your comments about Armstrong and doping.
    You definitely have a personal bias, but other than reflecting it in your comments, your not particularly transparent about it (i.e., I don't like Lance Armstrong).
    Do you ever write about what Armstrong does to support cancer research (which is, I recognize, a completely different subject).
    Please recognize your own biases.

  • Reid Rothchild

    Sally Jenkins is a good FICTION writer regarding Pharmstrong!

    When I want the truth I'll consult David Walsh and Paul Kimmage. Here is what Kimmage had to say about an unnamed mack daddy Pharmstrong when he interviewed Padraig Harrington.

    WE ARE on a flight to Malaga, drinking tea and shooting the breeze about another sporting icon, acclaimed for his courage and inspirational deeds.

    “Have you ever interviewed him?” Harrington asks.

    “No,” I reply. “I like to give everyone a blank sheet of paper, but I couldn’t do it with him . . . probably the most cynical, hypocritical bastard in the history of sport.”

    “Really?” he says, shifting nervously.

    “Have you read that stuff in his book about what a devoted husband and father he is? Well, he’d get up on your mother.”


    “He f**** everything that moves.”

    “SHUUUSSSSSSSSSH!” Harrington freaks, frantically looking around in case somebody has heard. I’m laughing, but he is absolutely serious.