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Brilliant and sad: The grey areas of a hero and villain
on 20 October 2012
Anyone who does drugs or dopes in sport are cheats, right? They're scum: defrauding fans, cutting short their rivals' careers by giving themselves an unfair advantage. They win medals, accolades and sponsors' money that they don't deserve.
But is it as black and white as that, or is it all one big grey area?
Tyler Hamilton's autobiography is all about that area. What if you worked as hard as you possibly could, got yourself onto the start lines for the pinnacle of your sport, you tried and tried ... and then found you couldn't compete. It's not because you don't have the talent, or because you haven't put the hours in - it's because those around you are using little red pills, or white bags, they have barely distinguishable needle marks in their arms - and they go that little bit quicker than you time and time again.
The authorities don't want to do anything about it, it's almost impossible to prove, and so you have a choice: Join them and compete on a fair-ish playing field, or give everything up and go home to find something else to do.
What do you do?
Is Tyler Hamilton a cheat? yes he is - he'll tell you that. This autobiography is not self-serving, it's not a man trying to justify what he did, or claw back some sort of reputation, this is an astonishing tale of widespread doping at the highest level of sport. It's scary because things such as blood transfusions, taking pills and sticking needles in yourself seems so normal.
Some say this book is about Lance Armstrong and to a degree it is - but it's really about human beings and what we do to ourselves when the pressure is on.
As with all sporting books, or perhaps books in general, what makes this terrific is that it's about people: flawed people and tough choices.
You don't have to be interested in cycling to read this, perhaps not even sport. You simply need any sort of interest in why human beings do the things they do. I've not read a book that's stuck with me like this has in absolutely ages.