After years of saying “no” whenever asked about doping, Lance Armstrong began his confessional interview with Oprah Winfrey by repeating the word “yes” in response to a series of direct questions addressing his use of performance-enhancing drugs during his cycling career.
Did you ever take banned substances to enhance your cycling performance?
Was one of those banned substances EPO?
Did you ever blood dope or use blood transfusions to enhance your cycling performance?
Did you ever use any other banned substances like testosterone, cortisone or human growth hormone.
In all seven of your Tour de France victories did you ever take banned substances or blood dope?
Formerly one of the most beloved and respected athletes in the country for his unprecedented cycling success, personal battle with cancer and charitable work with Livestrong, Armstrong arrived for this interview without titles, estranged from his famous foundation and with a tarnished reputation. In the aftermath of a voluminous report by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in October 2012, Armstrong was formally stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned from elite competition. In that damning report, USADA chief executive Travis Tygart implicated Armstrong in “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.”
While Armstrong refuted Tygart’s claim that his doping was more aggressive than the rest of the “EPO generation,” he did candidly admit to cheating for the first time after years of denials.
“I don’t know that I have a great answer,” Armstrong said when asked why he was coming clean at this point. “I will start my answer by saying that this is too late. It’s too late for probably most people and that’s my fault. I view this situation as one big lie — that I repeated a lot of times.”
Earlier on Thursday, hours before the first installment of this two-part interview aired, Armstrong was also stripped of his bronze medal from the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
During the months between the publication of the USADA report and this interview with Winfrey, Armstrong lost sponsors like Nike and Anheuser-Busch while the list of those looking to recoup money from him grew. The Sunday Times is attempting to recover more than $1.5 million from Armstrong relating to the settlement of a 2006 libel lawsuit. The paper also suggested a few questions to be asked by Winfrey. South Australia would like to be reimbursed for appearance fees paid out to Armstrong. Armstrong has also reportedly been negotiating with the Justice Department about returning monies paid out to his cycling team by the U.S. Postal Service, a longtime sponsor.
Not only was this interview a chance for Armstrong to attempt to resurrect his reputation, but it was a big booking for Winfrey, who described it as “certainly the biggest interview I’ve ever done” during a visit to CBS This Morning earlier this week.
With reports of a confession proliferating even ahead of the taping of the interview, the focus shifted from “if” Armstrong would confess to “how” he would confess.
Describing how he ingested PEDs without regret or moral qualm, Armstrong explained that he thought his doping regime was just another facet of his preparation, “like saying we have to have air in our tires or water in our bottles.”
To earn reinstatement from the World Anti-Doping Agency agency, this confession will need to be only the beginning.
“Is he trying to do something for himself to have the sanctions changed?” WADA director general David Howman told The Associated Press. “Does he want to do something for the benefit of the sport itself? In both instances, he will need to make a full statement on oath.”
Regardless of his motivation, Armstrong’s confession and stated contrition is huge reversal after years of vehement denials whenever faced with doping allegations. In a typically defiant move, the 41-year-old Texan tweeted an image of himself lounging at his home in Austin just weeks after the USADA report. Quite visible in the background of the photograph were the seven yellow jerseys that he had won in the Tour de France.
“It’s a major flaw and it’s a guy who expected to get whatever he wanted and to control every outcome and it’s inexcusable,” Armstrong told Winfrey, when asked about the aggressive way he bullied those who publicly challenged him with the truth of his own doping.
Winfrey replayed video of a handful of Armstrong’s most strident doping denials over the years and walked him through relationships that had been savaged by the ferocity of his deception.
“I was a bully in the sense that I tried to control the narrative,” Armstrong conceded. “And if I didn’t like what somebody said, for whatever reasons in my own head — whether I viewed that as somebody being disloyal a friend turning on you or whatever — I tried to control that and said, ‘That’s a lie. They are liars.'”
Of course, the USADA revelations as well as his subsequent confession have proven Armstrong to be the liar. But, for the first time in a long time, Armstrong seemed to finally be telling the truth.
But will it be enough? Armstrong claimed he was committed to earning back trust.
“I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to earn back trust and trying to apologize to people…for the rest of my life.”