Last night, in the first of a two-part interview with Oprah Winfrey, Lance Armstrong confessed to millions that he “lived a lie” for over a decade and took performance-enhancing drugs while competing professionally as a world class cyclist.
Following days of hype and talk from Winfrey on CBS News’ This Morning about how the former champion’s admission didn’t happen in the way she had expected it to, finally Armstrong’s mea culpa moment had arrived.
To recap, the former seven times Tour de France winner (the US World Anti-Doping Agency USADA stripped Armstrong of his titles in October 2012), and is currently attempting to put out numerous fires.
Firstly, a whistleblower lawsuit from former team-mate Floyd Landis which the US Justice Department is said to be mulling. Armstrong is also reportedly negotiating with the USADA to pay back some of the millions that were paid to his Postal Service/ Discovery Channel teams and possibly reduce his lifetime sports ban.
There are also lawsuits from a Dallas-based events company, the Sunday Times (who say the interview helps them), and an imminent filing from the South Australian government.
Also at stake are wider claims that could damn Armstrong even further in the court of public opinion. Claims that he bullied his former team-mates and others with legal suits, and intimidatory methods.
So how far did Armstrong go, and was it enough?
Well, after answering “yes” to five yes/no questions about whether he used performance-enhancing drugs, other banned substances, and whether he used them in all seven of the Tour de France wins, Armstrong went on to try and defuse the “monster” perception many have of him.
Near the beginning of interview he said: “I view this situation as one big lie I repeated a lot of times. I made those decisions, they were my mistake and I’m here to say sorry.”
In the above answer, the 41-year-old could be said to be indirectly denying USADA CEO Travis Tygart’s claim that he led a covert, sophisticated doping program that was the most organised in the history of the sport, The Guardian notes.
Refuting that claim later, Armstrong said his doping system was “smart, but it was conservative, risk averse,” adding, “I didn’t have access to anything that anybody else didn’t. Winning races mattered for me but to say that program was bigger than the East German doping program of ’70s and ’80s is wrong.”
After admitting to taking performance-enhancing drugs Erythropoietin (EPO), testosterone, cortisone and human growth hormone as well as having blood transfusion, Armstrong said:
“All the fault and blame is on me and a lot of that is momentum and I lost myself in all that. I couldn’t handle it. The story is so bad and toxic and a lot of it is true.”
But the overriding theme of the interview — in terms of what Armstrong was trying to get across — was necessity.
Asked if doping was what it took to win the Tour, the disgraced ex-champion said: “That’s like saying we have to have air in our tires or water in our bottles. It was part of the job. I don’t want to make any excuses, but that was my view and I made those decisions.”
Armstrong also told Winfrey that his battle with cancer in the mid 1990’s turned him into a “fighter,” adding,”Before my diagnosis I was a competitor but not a fierce competitor. I took that ruthless win-at-all-costs attitude into cycling which was bad.”
While admitting he was “a bully” and making special note of two early whistleblowers, masseuse Emma O’Reilly and Frankie and Betsy Andreu — all of whom have since spoke out damningly about the interview — Armstrong refused to answer specific allegations lodged by the Andreu’s, or go into details about USDADA’s claims that he defrauded them for millions, or submit to meaningful probing about USADA’s extensive October 2012 report.
Ironically, Armstrong’s statements about not paying off the International Cycling Union (ICI) over a failed drug test and other allegations, led UCI president Pat McQuaid to release a statement saying the interview showed the UCI was not part of a “collusion or conspiracy,” The Guardian notes.
It should be noted that Armstrong emphatically denied bullying team-mates into doping.
As the ramifications of Armstrong’s interview now play out everywhere, this morning Usada and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) have called for the ex-sportsman to swear “under oath” about the full extent of his doping.
Fahey, president (Wada), told BBC Sport:
“That is his way forward if he is serious. Don’t go on a show with a woman who will give benign questions, lead you to the answers and not follow up when you don’t answer properly. But is he going to do it? Probably not. If he was prepared to do it, he probably wouldn’t go down the Oprah Winfrey route in the first place.”
The second part of Armstrong’s interview will be shown on Friday 9pm ET on OWN network /2am GMT on the Discovery channel and streamed worldwide on Winfrey’s website.
What did you think of Armstrong’s admission — a coup for Winfrey and a tough call for a one-time hero, or simply too little, too late?