Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Review: 'The Race to Truth' Emma O'Reilly's cycling life

A gripping read 
Imagine you spend your working life on a sports-team where there is one super-star, someone burning brighter than everyone else, someone you have a good relationship with, you think. 

Then you learn he cheated his way to all that stardom, you speak out for love of your sport, and he attacks you, grossly insults you.

Could you forgive him? Could you move on and write a book that reveals everything but also shows a rare magnanimity of spirit?

I'm not sure I could to be honest. But former soigneur (masseuse, fixer, general hold-the-team-up person) to the US Postal cycling team Emma O’Reilly has done just that.

Her book ‘The Race to Truth’ is simply gripping. Even if you have no interest in racing, this is a woman worth knowing.

You read how her passion for cycling began in her home-town of Dublin.

O’Reilly is clearly very close to her family, well-grounded and well-prepared for reality of competitive racing, and a career she descibes as exhausting, and frenetic. Her story and photographs as she becomes the only female soigneur on the Tour de France would be fascinating even without what she took on later.

But who could be prepared for the extent of the doping in that team, and others in the peloton? Who could be prepared for young men dying of heart attacks having sprinted up mountains without breaking a sweat?

O’Reilly vividly describes cyclists almost flying up steep mountains, and one man finishing a stage only to casually leap over the barricades afterwards. A more normal reaction would have been to collapse in need of liquid or oxygen or a massage, or preferably all three at once.

She talks of carrying doping material across borders, of hearing others doing it and how it slowly takes over the sport. As I read, it was impossible to see how the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) could not have noticed the records falling, the condition of the cyclists.She even writes how some cyclists started wearing dark sunglasses while racing to cover their dilated pupils.

The final chapters where she calmly describes how Armstrong attacked her, saying she was an alcoholic, first implying she was sleeping around, and then outright calling her a ‘whore’ - these are the pages which show you how strong O’Reilly is.

It’s jaw-dropping stuff, and then she finds something inside her bigger than all of it - and forgives him even before he asks it of her. She sees through his media-games, wanting her to say ‘I forgive you’ before his appearance on Oprah, and genuinely finds it within herself to move on and remember their friendship. She has done this so successfully he's written the foreword to her book. 

He wrote: "She tells what is right, and what is wrong and for a time that worked against the lies I was telling the world."
PIC: Daily Mail/Graham Chadwick
My own industry of journalism doesn’t come well out of the tale. Until I read this I’d imagined O’Reilly and David Walsh (the man who broke her claims relating to Armstrong) as having a close relationship. But she hadn’t known she was the only person to be named in his book, never really understood until it was too late that Armstrong was suing the Sunday Times but not O’Reilly.

It was an awful way to treat someone, someone going up against a man then seen as the most successful bike-rider since ...well, since ever. She makes a wry comment when telling how she met Armstrong for that extraordinary forgiveness meeting (pic above) about having one journalist accompany her and so write the story to keep the others away.

The Race to Truth, by Emma O'Reilly Buy it, borrow it from the library but read it.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Diversity shines at the Asian Games but not for everyone

PIC Reuters via Al Jazeera
Playing sport as a woman can be challenging, and even impossible in some situations so it's disappointing that the International Basketball Federation has ruled against hijabs. The Asian Games are taking place at the moment, and while most federations allow hijabs or modified veils FIBA have said No. Their rules ban "headgear, hair accessories and jewellry"

And as a result the Qatari team are now out of the competition. A competition whose slogan is 'Diversity Shines Here'.

One of the players Ahlam Salem M Al-Mana told Reuters: "We have to take this stand. We knew about the hijab ban but we have to be here. We have to show everyone that we are ready to play, but the International Association is not ready."

If you're interested in knowing more about the challenges facing women in Muslim countries, and their successes Sertaç Sehlikoglu has a great blog Muslim Women in Sport.


Friday, September 19, 2014

What's coming up next

I've been very slack on posting here this month. This is mainly because I've been on leave, and trying to avoid computers as much as possible.

I did however read two gripping books which I'll be reviewing here next week. Both from the world of cycling as in the road racing sport. One is by Irish masseue Emma O' Reilly who used to work with Lance Armstrong - yes, the woman he said 'that' about.

And the second is Welsh cyclist Nicole Cook's autobiography, another very uncomfortable read for anyone with idealistic notions about sport. (Do people like that still exist - are you out there?)

A few more pages to go and thoughts to gather ...

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: MuayThai Phuket

Boxing - not just for boys.

LtoR: Teresa Sinbimuaythai, Namwan Muay Thai, Geraldine Callaghan, Caley Reece, Gemma Sinbi, Natasha Sky and Victoria Fung Sinbimuaythai at Sinbi Muay Thai Training Camp - Phuket, Thailand.
PHOTO: Darren Reece, Riddler's Gym