Wednesday, 4 March 2015
Interview with Emma O' Reilly - The Race To Truth (Part Two)
In the second part of the interview with Emma O' Reilly, we discuss The Omerta, Oprah and Forgiveness. The first part of the interview you can find here.
Abbreviations PJ = Phil Jones
EOR = Emma O' Reilly
LA = Lance Armstrong
PJ - A slightly more difficult question is that for some time you were part of the Omerta (the unofficial code of silence around doping in the sport). You carried illegal substances on more than one occasion, albeit uncomfortably as you mention in the book. Only a couple of weeks ago in a BBC interview conducted with Dan Roan, Lance Armstrong was asked 'If you had your time again, would you do it again?' and he answered 'yes if it were 1995' which created a whole new load of headlines. So, same question to you. Would you do it again?
EOR - "A lot of the context was taken out of the interview, so you need to read it fully. If I had my time again, yes I'd do the same. That's how messed up the times were then. I stood out as someone who was clean and good, I'd always refused to have anything to do with the medical programmes, at that time the medical programme was part of the process of being in a professional racing team. LA described it on Oprah as the same as 'having air put in your tyres'. It's not being flippant but It was just a fundamental part of it.
I had always planned to get out of cycling when I was 30. I always had this thing that you have to look at yourself in the mirror, doping was wrong and I didn't want the actions from my 20's to catch up with me. I didn't want to be a soigneur who was a glorified drugs transporter or administrator.
Cycling had - up to that point - always been a dirty sport so I'd assumed that there would be products around, I just made a decision at the time that I didn't want to get involved with it. By not being involved with it I felt I was making a big stand, however by turning a blind eye, I was complicit. It was so dirty at the time, that when I left the sport, I got so many questions from journalists asking if I'd been fired because I didn't partake in administering the medical programme.
I thought, how do these guys even know, how is that even a story? It just shows how prevalent it was in the industry. Even though on occasions I did dip in, I did so little. I did nothing relevant to the size of everything. I was the person they came to if there was no other option. I was Plan Z. The riders never put me under pressure to get involved, other staff members would often sneer at me like I wasn't doing my job right or not showing dedication to the team, but never the riders.
There were times when staff were driving through the night, doped up themselves. You do a stage race in Madrid and then go back to Belgium when it's all finished, you cannot drive through the night, yet staff were. I'd look at them and think they were morons, paid minimum wage and expected to work long hours. I implemented a policy that you had to stop driving at eleven 'o'clock to stop this practice."
PJ - Forgiveness is about not condoning the past but more of a statement that 'I want to move on'. At times you've been at the brink, lawsuits, defamation, media interest, repuational damage and your very being being called into account. At what point did you decide to forgive Lance Armstrong?
EOR - "During the lawsuits and name calling, things had become so nasty, so sordid and so wrong that I thought 'Why do I need to engage in this anymore'. Also I couldn't respect what Lance was doing, so why would I involve myself in it. One of my coping mechanisms was to stay as far away from it as possible. I could see so many people becoming consumed by hate and distress.
Unfortunately, I could understand where Lance was coming from. I saw what happened to Willy Voet (Google 'The Festina Affair) so knew that the hate would come from within cycling, it doesn't make it right, but at least I understood the reaction and the motivation.
I felt I'd been manipulated by many people, including Lance. After the USADA report, Lance had taken a big impact and I'd always been taught to never kick a man whilst he's down. He got in touch with me before the Oprah Winfrey show, I was still very angry and thought who the hell does he think he is. I didn't take the call or reply to the texts. I was suspicious as I thought that was some way of him using the conversation to his advantage on camera to say that we were in communication or something.
I thought, no way am I giving him the opportunity to look good in any way, shape or form and I'd still do the same now, in the same circumstances. A couple of months later, it was me that wondered whether it would be worth patching things up or drawing a line under it for both of ours sake, so I got in touch with him.
I dropped him a text and said that if he was genuine to get in touch. He replied immediately and we began to start messaging each other again, it was awkward in the beginning but it became easier. During the Summer I was in Florida, we said we'd meet at some stage. I was ready to forgive, but not necessarily to trust.
Before I went to Florida, I'd sent him several messages to ask in advance what he was planning, what was his agenda. I was still suspicious. On each occasion he said there was no hidden agenda, simply to meet. One thing about Lance, whilst he is known for being cunning, he attacks from the front, always. You know it's coming. If he was planning something, he would have either not answered or you would have got some hint.
What was embarrassing was the first time we spoke on the phone. We'd been texting for months, but it felt a bit awkward. When we eventually met, we clicked right back to how things used to be. We've been in contact this week for example.
Forgiveness allows you to move on in a healthy way. It gives you back your control of a situation. You feel more at peace with yourself. It gave me my confidence back."
PJ - What impact did all the stress of the entire Lance Armstrong affair have on you. Many people would have cracked under the pressure, had a breakdown or had a crisis in confidence?
EOR - "For sure, I had many dark days, at times it was awful and it did affect me. I wanted to call the book 'The Lost Decade' because I saw my thirties as being lost. I became very withdrawn over that decade, much less outgoing. I always knew I was telling the truth, yet people around me didn't always realise quite how much it was taking out of me.
At the height of the publicity and legal threat, there was talk of going to a safe house which I rejected. All I could remember was that Lance was the guy whose legs I used to rub and who I made bottles for, not the global superstar. It was one of many coping mechanisms I had."
PJ - Did you watch the Oprah interview?
EOR - "It's funny. David Walsh asked me to watch it with him but I actually watched it on my own. It was only then did I realise how much weight I had carried. I knew Oprah would ask about me my role and his actions. When he admitted that I was telling the truth on camera, it felt like a weight had been lifted from me, at last it was real and the full truth was out there. I was vindicated. Like someone had released a pressure valve. It's not that I was looking for that to happen, but it made me realise that things had got to me. I was hurt deeply.
I'd turn off the interviews over the years where he'd vehemently denied any indiscretion, talk of doping or cheating. I couldn't stand listening to the nonsense and drivel. He wasn't honourable in how he acted, not in any way, shape or form."
PJ - And what of the authorities during the whole period. Did they all turn a blind eye?
EOR - "I know for a fact they did and I spoke out about it. Lance has subsequently backed me up on this issue. My issue was never with the riders, they inherited they the system or went home. The only reason that system stayed in place was because of the authorities and the doctors. When I was in the sport, what upset me was the people who were meant to protect the riders were complicit. The President of the UCI, was actually calling riders to tell them they were positive to give them the heads up. What protection does that give to people within the sport like the riders?
Then you have the doctors administering it. A UCI commissaire gaveJohan the heads up when Lance had a high cortisone reading in the 1999 tour. Yes the riders were wrong, yet the entire thing was morally corrupt and only way to participate in Professional cycling was to get with the programme."
PJ - What have you learned about yourself during this whole experience?
EOR - "That's a really interesting question. I think I'm still the same person. I'm probably more of a private person and there are times when I regretted speaking out. I put in the book a quote from Martin Luther King - "Bad things happen when people stay quiet."
I guess I've learned that I should have protected those around me better and I should research things better before jumping in to things."
The Race To Truth is available via good book stores and via Amazon. Emma O' Reilly now practices sports physiotherapy in a clinic in Cheshire and is one of the people behind Cheshire indoor cycling centre - ProSpin Cycle club.