After success of The Secret Race, will the Lance Armstrong factor again demand the judges' vote?

When Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyne won the 2012 William Hill Sports Book of the Year award for their cycling drugs expose, The Secret Race, the judging panel's view was that the book's central role -- or, at least, the role of the evidence contained in it -- in bringing cheats to justice meant that it was almost impossible for it not to be their winner.

The same argument might be put forward for Seven Deadly Sins, the story of journalist David Walsh's 13-year pursuit of the disgraced multiple Tour de France winner, Lance Armstrong, a piece of dogged investigative reporting unparalleled in sports journalism which could be said to be equally important in exposing the biggest doping conspiracy in sports history.

Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong (Simon & Schuster) is among a shortlist of six titles from which the 2013 William Hill Sports Book of the Year will be chosen, with the winner due to be announced on Wednesday November 27.

Author Walsh, the Sunday Times chief sports writer, has already been recognised for his role in uncovering the truth about Armstrong's wrongdoing with the prestigious Barclays Lifetime Achievement Award at the BT Sport Industry Awards earlier this year.

The 58-year-old Irishman has won numerous honours for journalism in the United Kingdom and in his own country since he began his career in the 1970s on the weekly Leitrim Observer in Carrick-on-Shannon.

A cycling fan, he started writing about the sport in 1984 during the period when the two Irish riders, Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche, were at their peak.   Over time he noted that rumours of drug use and blood doping in the sport were gathering pace and he was already working on stories about doping in professional cycling when Armstrong, whose return to competition after developing testicular cancer had given him heroic status in the sport, won his first Tour de France in 1999.

Walsh already had doubts about some of Armstrong's performances, particularly on the mountain stages, when the speed at which he climbed struck the writer as too good to be true.  On the day the American crossed the finish line in Paris, Walsh told his readers in the Sunday Times of his scepticism and suggested the result should be the subject of an inquiry.

The article marked the beginning of Walsh's quest for the truth and his pursuit of Armstrong, who was equally determined to avoid detection and did so successfully until the evidence of Hamilton and others led him to be found guilty as charged by the US Anti-Doping Agency in 2012, stripped of all seven of his Tour titles and banned from competitive cycling for life.


It was a bitter fight.  Armstrong called Walsh "a little troll" and "the worst journalist in the world", obtained an out-of-court settlement from the Sunday Times after suing them for libel in 2004 and even, in the most heartless of all the insults, suggested that Walsh was conducting a vendetta against the sport driven by the loss of his son, John, who was killed while cycling home from a football match in 1995, aged only 12.

Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong is a compelling story, told so well that it is to be turned into a feature film directed by Stephen Frears, the English director known for High Fidelity, Dirty Pretty Things, The Queen and Philomena among others.

The Irish actor Chris O'Dowd has been picked to portray Walsh, with the American Ben Foster in the Armstrong role. Lee Pace, Guillaume Canet and Jesse Piemons are also among the cast.

The following are extracts from a couple of reviews of the book, which has been a bestseller in several countries, beginning with the words of New Zealand Herald writer Dylan Cleaver:

"What shines through in this book, fired out in impressively quick time after the unravelling of Lance last year, is Walsh's doggedness, his ability to cultivate sources and his near-obsession with bringing down Armstrong.

Do not underestimate the machinery Armstrong had in place to prevent this sort of stuff seeing the light of day. You do not successfully live a lie for a decade without having powerful friends in powerful places.

At times it must have been so easy to fold - his paper, Rupert Murdoch's Sunday Times, clearly thought about it - but the Irishman was made of sterner stuff.

He deserves the kudos coming his way, the royalties and, you'd think, a more relaxing year than the previous 13. Perhaps he'll have time to sit back and enjoy the work of others - though I wouldn't bet on it."

Read the full review

Saurabh Kumar Shahi, writing in the Sunday Indian, made reference at the start to the poignant memory of Walsh's tragic little boy.

"Somewhere in the middle of this 430- page exposĂ© of Lance Armstrong, journalist David Walsh recounts the story of his son, John, who died when he was all of twelve. Never afraid of asking questions and never holding anything so sacrosanct as to believe in it unquestionably, John once had a tiff with his teacher at his school. In the Bible class, where the nativity story was being recounted, his teacher insisted how Joseph and Mary lived a modest life. Confused and intrigued in equal parts, Walsh’s son shot back, 'If they were so poor, what did they do with the gold they were given by the three wise men?' Heartbreaking as it might sound in retrospect, it tells us something about the Walsh family.

The Lance Armstrong saga can safely be adjudged as the biggest saga of triumph and eventual downfall in the history of sports in living memory. The story of a cyclist who fought and recovered from testicular cancer and went on to win a record seven Tour de France titles, and then followed it with a bestseller biography and a behemoth of a charitable organisation, appeared too good to be true to many. However, it needed immense courage to delve deeper. And one person who did that, David Walsh, the Irishman who works as the Sunday Times’ chief sports writer, found out that the going was tough. 'He’s not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy,' he had commented in his measured understatement. In unearthing the truth, he did one heck of a job. And, Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit Of Lance Armstrong is the product of that perseverance."

Read the full review

Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong(Simon & Schuster) is among six titles shortlisted for the 2013 William Hill Sports Book of the Year prize.  The others are:

I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Penguin), the autobiography of the Swedish footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy: A Journey to the Heart of Cricket's Underworld(Bloomsbury), by Ed Hawkins

Doped: The Real Life Story of the 1960s Racehorse Doping Gang (Racing Post Books), by Jamie Reid .

The Boys in the Boat (Macmillan), by American author Daniel James Brown.

The Sports Gene: What Makes the Perfect Athlete (Yellow Jersey Press), by David Epstein.

The William Hill Sports Book of the Year -- this year to be awarded for the 25th time -- is the world's longest established and most valuable literary sports-writing award, carrying a £25,000 cash prize for the winning author.

The judging panel consists of broadcaster and writer John Inverdale; broadcaster Danny Kelly; award-winning journalist Hugh McIlvanney; and columnist and author, Alyson Rudd. Chairman of the judging panel is John Gaustad, co-creator of the award and founder of the Sportspages bookshop.

The winner will be announced live on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, at an evening reception at The Hospital Club in central London, on Wednesday 27th November.

William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2013: The Longlist

Zlatan Ibrahimovic's bid to make history

The 1960s racehorse doping gang: a true-life thriller

Match fixing: cricket's heart of darkness



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