By Robert Lalah
It's hard to imagine the number of people who'll be glued to television screens all over the world today watching Barack Obama being sworn in for a second term as president of the United States. It's highly unlikely that those who tune in will be disappointed. Americans certainly know how to put on a show after all.
But as grand as this spectacle will be, it'll have a hard time competing with last week's two-night Lance Armstrong interview for the title of 2013's most riveting TV moment (so far).
The build-up to Armstrong's sit-down with Oprah Winfrey was quite something. 'Will the one-time champion cyclist finally admit to doping? Tune in for the shocking revelation.'
The day before the interview was set to air, Winfrey herself announced that yes, Armstrong did admit to doping, and from then on it was just a matter of searching for the OWN network on your cable line-up or finding a link to the station's website so you wouldn't miss an intense interview.
Part of the reason the whole thing's so fascinating is Armstrong's stature leading up to this moment. He was for a long time regarded by many as one of the greatest sportsmen of his generation. You definitely didn't have to be into cycling to know about him. Winning the gruelling Tour de France a record seven times between 1999 and 2005 is an amazing feat.
But to pull this off after battling testicular cancer (with which he was diagnosed in 1996) that spread to his lungs and brain is the kind of story the best Hollywood writers would struggle to create. Add to this Armstrong's dedicated charity work and his ruthless attack on associates who accused him of doping, and what you have is an astoundingly complex, morally ambi-guous character, not unlike the ill-fated protagonist of a random Greek tragedy. It was hubris, after all, that brought Armstrong down, and that's why so many revelled in this unfortunate televised spectacle.
The reaction to the interview, for me, proved more unsettling than Armstrong's admission. It seemed many weren't satisfied that he was sufficiently contrite, or that he had been really torn up by his ill deeds. Commenting on part one of the interview, sports pundits and psychologists complained that Armstrong was not apologetic enough, expressed disappointment that he didn't come to tears, and suggested that he was still too guarded. They were left wanting more. Where was the cow-bawling; the pleading on bended knees; the revelation that he wanted to kill himself? Only then would they be satisfied.
Look, I get it. Armstrong was a lying, snivelling, utterly disdainful character who for years bullied his teammates and anyone who accused him of using performance-enhancing drugs. He brazenly went after his detractors with lawsuits, and lived large on millions he earned by illegal and unfair means. That his lifetime ban from the sport is fair is without question. He should also be made to repay any prize money he earned while doped up, and certainly should be sued by newspapers that were made to pay him damages in the past for printing 'false' accusations.
But that's where the line should be drawn. This ravenous pursuit of blood is unwarranted. Armstrong did some terrible things and now is attempting to come clean. He has apologised to his friends, family and fans, and will inevitably lose much of his fortune. What more do we really want?
Events like this tend to turn people into self-righteous arbiters of morality. Everyone has something to say. I suppose looking down on someone makes us feel better about ourselves. At least we're better than that guy, right?
But we should realise that by finally coming clean, Armstrong could well be unwittingly leading by example. As he inspired for years as an athlete and cancer survivor, so, too, could his admission serve as inspiration to others who seek a fresh start in life.
How many of us would be brave enough to sit in front of a worldwide audience and expose our deepest, darkest secrets? How many would leave ourselves open to near-countless lawsuits and a lifetime of ridicule for a single moment of truth-telling? Not many, I imagine.
The best thing to do now is wish Armstrong and his family the best for the hard days ahead.
Hopefully, the charity work he piloted over the years will continue and he will find peace on his journey.
Robert Lalah is assistant editor - features, and author of 'Roving With Lalah'. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com