(MCT) — CHICAGO — After nearly 15 years of defiant denials and denunciations of those who said he had doped his way to success, Lance Armstrong put the lie to all that by telling Oprah Winfrey he had used performance-enhancing drugs during all seven of his Tour de France victories.
Despite saying he was sorry for having damaged cycling and admitting he deserved his fall from grace, the primary take away from Thursday’s 90-minute segment of a 21/2-hour interview that will be concluded Friday on OWN is of an Armstrong who will not shake his years of being a calculated liar, whose seven Tour de France victories — since stripped from him, along with an Olympic bronze medal — are the greatest competitive fraud in sports history.
“I view this as one big lie I repeated a lot of times,” Armstrong said, with more resignation than contrition.
Armstrong’s admissions in many areas were incomplete, and that failure to tell the whole truth for whatever reasons — legal protection or more defiance — will continue to impugn his credibility. His failure to make a public apology for the lies he told about other people also undermined Armstrong’s attempt to turn the interview to his benefit.
Armstrong said he took a usual “cocktail” of erythropoietin (EPO), testosterone and blood transfusions beginning in the mid-1990s and running through his seventh straight first-place Tour finish in 2005, after which he retired before coming back to the race in 2009.
He insisted that given the widespread culture of doping in the sport during those years, it was not possible to win the Tour without doping.
“Did you feel you were cheating?” Winfrey asked.
“At the time, no,” Armstrong said, explaining it with moral relativism. “I looked up cheat in the dictionary and the definition was to gain an advantage on a rival. I viewed it as a level playing field.”
Armstrong’s decision to confess to Winfrey, whose questions were pointed and surprisingly relentless, is seen by many as the first step in a seemingly impossible effort to remake an image that has been irreparably damaged.
“Why now? I don’t have a great answer,” Armstrong said. “This is too late for probably most people. That’s my fault. … Now the story is so bad and toxic.”
The hundreds of pages of testimony provided to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency by 11 of Armstrong’s former teammates already had left no doubt that the cyclist had made extensive use of performance-enhancing drugs.
“The only thing that made me angry in the whole (USADA) report was (it saying) that I doped in my comeback,” he said.
He also disputed former teammate Christian Vande Velde’s testimony that Armstrong told Vande Velde he would be fired for not doping. Armstrong later added he did not require other team members to dope.
“I’m not the most believable guy in the world right now, I understand,” Armstrong said.
That Vande Velde and several others said he had bullied them into doping on his behalf was an even greater condemnation of the Machiavellian methods Armstrong had used to become a global icon after recovering from testicular cancer that had spread to his brain.
“Yeah, I was a bully,” Armstrong said, referring to those attacking him as liars who challenged him in any way.
Armstrong corroborated the testimony of his former team masseuse, Emma O’Reilly, that he had acquired a backdated therapeutic use exemption to beat a finding of a banned corticosteroid in a test at his first Tour victory (1999). O’Reilly was among many people Armstrong had maligned, attacked or sued for having challenged him.
“Emma is one of these people I have to apologize to, one of these people who got run over, got bullied,” Armstrong said. “I have reached out to her.”
He also said he has called Betsy Andreu, who testified Armstrong had admitted to use of PEDS in an Indiana hospital room in 1996. He had called Andreu “crazy” and a “bitch.”
Armstrong would not answer the question of whether Andreu’s testimony was true.
He did not use the Winfrey forum to give a heartfelt public apology to her or O’Reilly.
Even his limited admissions of doping could have widespread impact on Armstrong’s financial position, once a reported net worth of $100 million. All his sponsors have severed ties, and both the U.S. government — which indirectly sponsored his U.S. Postal Service team — and a company that paid him a multi-million-dollar bonus for Tour victories could sue to retrieve money. Some of what he told Winfrey contradicted sworn testimony he has given.
Armstrong reportedly wants to have his lifetime ban from all sports governed by the World Anti-Doping Code to be reduced so he can compete in triathlons and marathons. For that to happen, he will need to provide significant new evidence about doping in the sport.
The debasement of Armstrong’s achievements and character also has hurt the reputation of his cancer-fighting foundation, Livestrong.
“Jerk and humanitarian, I would say I was both,” he said. “Now we are seeing more of the jerk part.”