(ATR) Lance Armstrong confesses to Oprah Winfrey, but experts say the remorse may be too late to salvage his reputation.
Lance Armstrong confesses. (OWN)
The now-defrocked seven-time Tour de France champion appeared Thursday night in an hour-and-a-half-long interview with Winfrey, supposed to be his first public admission to years of doping.
Did he use EPO? Did he practice blood doping? Did he take other banned substances like testosterone, cortisone or human growth hormone?
"Yes," "yes" and "yes".
Did he do so before all seven of his TDF titles?
And was winning seven straight Tours even possible while clean?
A resounding “not in my opinion” from Winfrey's interviewee.
After this quick-fire questioning to open the confessional, the first signs of an apology trickled out from Armstrong.
“This is too late for probably most people, and that’s my fault,” he said, admitting he was a “bully” as he perpetrated “one big lie that I repeated a lot of times”.
Later, he came closer to “sorry” but repeatedly fell short until around the one-hour mark.
“I will spend the rest of my life trying to earn back trust and apologize to people,” he said.
"The sport is paying the price for that."
Still, his overall tone was characterized less by contrition than by defiance throughout an interview arguably more notable for what he would not admit than for what he would.
Asked about U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart’s characterization of Armstrong as front and center in cycling's “most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program” ever while a member of the U.S. Postal Service Pro Cycling Team, he admitted only to the “professional” part.
USPS riders, he asserted, were “smart” and “conservative” and "risk-averse” and “aware” with their drug use, but certainly not as “sophisticated” as the East Germans in the 1970s and 1980s.
Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France from 1998 to 2005 but was stripped of the titles last October. (Getty Images)
“I didn’t have access to anything that anyone else didn’t have access to,” he said, chalking up doping as “part of the job” just like putting “air in our tires” or “water in our bottles” before racing.
“My cocktail was only EPO – but not a lot – transfusions and testosterone,” he said, mentioning his diagnosis with testicular cancer as a mitigating factor for the testosterone.
He also denied wielding the power to fire riders from the USPS team for foregoing banned substances, as several of his former teammates have testified.
“I guess I could have but I never did,” he said.
"I’m not the most believable guy in the world right now, but I did not do that.”
And the last time he doped? Back in 2005, he said, before his final comeback, before his 3rd place finish at the 2009 TDF and before his 2010 swansong.
“The last time I crossed that line was 2005,” he said of taking drugs at the Tour.
"Did doping not feel wrong at the time?" Winfrey asked.
"No," he said. "Scary."
"Did you not feel bad about doping at the time?"she pressed.
"No," he said. "Even scarier."
"Did you not feel like you were cheating at the time?" she asked.
"No," he said. "The scariest."
To Be Continued...
"Oprah and Lance Armstrong: The Worldwide Exclusive”
is now a two-part show, the next airing Friday night on OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network. The interview was taped Jan. 14 in Austin, Texas, where Armstrong resides.
Lance Armstrong and Oprah Winfrey taped in a downtown Austin hotel. (OWN)
Based on Thursday's teaser, Friday's viewers can expect more on the fallout of the past few months for Armstrong, including the loss of sponsors, the fate of Livestrong, the future of his family and what's next for the aspiring triathlete.
More apologies too, if the final moments of Thursday's broadcast are any indication, as Winfrey asks Armstrong what he wants to say to his millions of fans worldwide who have worn Livestrong bracelets over the years and defended the cyclist throughout all his doping allegations.
Also possible? More on his Olympics career, which spanned Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000, as well as his rocky relationship with the International Cycling Union, which received only a handful of mentions throughout Thursday's segment.
"I'm not a fan of the UCI," he said twice tonight, explaining a $100,000 donation in 2005 to be the result of the UCI needing money and not any sort of payoff for covering up a failed test.
In fact, Armstrong insisted, he never "failed" any of the hundreds of drug tests he took over the years – he "retroactively failed" them, he stressed before implying that he wouldn't even be apologizing today if he hadn't been caught.
"We wouldn't be sitting here if I didn't come back," he said of his 2009 return to the bike.
Armstrong’s apologies to Winfrey don’t mean much to Richard Pound, senior IOC member from Canada. Ten years ago, Armstrong tried to have Pound fired as president of the World Anti-Doping Agency – as well as booted from the IOC – when Pound voiced suspicions about Armstrong and his TDF teammates.
“It was part of the bullying tactics he used against many people,” Pound told Around the Rings
earlier this week, discounting the value of Armstrong’s TV appearance.
“It’s yesterday’s news. We all know he cheated. He’s been banned for life. It’s just primal scream therapy for him,” he said.
Senior U.S. IOC member Anita DeFrantz says Armstrong has tricked many people through the years.
“I wanted to believe the man because he had faced death and he seemed to have managed that. But what he has done – and done to other athletes is despicable,” DeFrantz told ATR
ahead of the Armstrong interview.
Lance Armstrong with his Olympic medal. (Getty Images)
Atlanta-based public relations veteran Mitch Leff says Armstrong has burned bridges that maybe cannot be rebuilt.
“Trust and integrity are key to your image,” he tells ATR
“When someone like Lance Armstrong lies about it in such vehement detail for years and years, it’s hard to forgive him. People look at him and say he’s a liar, he doesn’t have integrity, he’s not a role model for children,” Leff says.
The Armstrong interview came on the same day that the IOC demanded the return of the bronze medal he won in the time trial at the Sydney Olympics. A U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman says Armstrong will be contacted to seek return of the medal as well as his diploma for participating in 2000.
Pound says he hopes Armstrong returns the regalia as requested.
“If it’s dragged from him kicking and screaming, then he just goes further into the tank.”
Written by Matthew Grayson.
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