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With such a murky mess of lies, deceit and bullying, it was hard to know exactly what to believe when Lance Armstrong told all to Oprah Winfrey this afternoon. Armstrong referred to two moments in his life that he couldn’t control. His cancer, and this. However, I don’t think he could have done a better job at controlling the situation he’s gotten himself in than this. If you think Lance was big a couple years ago, I think he’s about to get a lot bigger.
It took me a while to realise it, but it became quite apparent that Lance was answering many of the questions in a way that distanced the Lance of today, from the Lance of yesterday. He shaped a narrative of two Lances and used the word “we” many times. He readily admitted his mistakes, blamed nobody but himself, used the word “flawed” often, referred to “those days”, how he’s “happier today”, and owns up to everything saying, “I deserved it”. He talked about how he would like to go back and change things if he could, and that this is a process for him. This made him human, something that he’s risen above for as long as we’ve known him.
What better way to make a comeback than for Lance separate himself from the old Lance, tear him down, show remorse, and rebuild a better, more human Lance v3.0.
“Did you ever take banned substances to increase your cycling performance?” Yes
“Was one of those banned substances EPO?” Yes
“Did you ever blood dope or use blood transfusions to enhance your cycling performance?” Yes
“Did you ever use any other banned substances like testosterone, cortisone, human growth hormone?” Yes
“In all 7 of your Tour de France victories did you use banned substances? ” Yes
I think Oprah did a reasonable job at asking the right questions. To her credit, she’s probably learned everything she’s ever known about cycling over the past two weeks. However, many of the questions were loaded whereas I think she should have left them open ended. It’s likely that Oprah didn’t have the background to ask follow-up questions that dug deeper (one reason why Lance would have chosen Oprah for this interview). It would have been a drastically different interview if David Walsh, Paul Kimmage, or USADA had conducted it. This week David Walsh took out a full page ad in the Chicago Tribune suggested that Winfrey ask Armstrong ten questions. The interview had already taken place and we’ve only seen half of it, but to my count Oprah got answers for five of these questions. I’m guessing she’ll ask about how he feels about lying to the cancer community in part 2, but he refused to talk about the 1996 Hospital incident with Betsy Andreu, presumably because of legal implications (same with Dr Ferrari), but did admit to the doping that he was accused of.
• Did you tell doctors at the Indiana University Hospital on Oct. 27, 1996, that you had taken EPO, human growth hormone, cortisone, steroids and testosterone?
• After returning from cancer how did you justify putting banned drugs in your body?
• Did you have any sympathy for those rivals determined to race clean?
• Do you regret how you treated Betsy Andreu, your former masseuse Emma O’Reilly and Greg LeMond?
• Do you admit that your friend Dr. Michele Ferrari fully supported your team’s doping?
• Is it your intention to return the prize money you earned from Sept. 1998 to July 2010?
• Did you sue the Sunday Times to shut us up?
• Was your failure to understand Floyd Landis the key to your downfall?
• Do you accept your lying to the cancer community was the greatest deception of all?
• Why have you chosen Oprah Winfrey for your first interview as a banned athlete?
I was satisfied with the way Lance answered many of the question, although he didn’t go into much detail. His answers were concise and prompted Oprah to quickly go onto the next question quickly. He came off looking good by not wanting to talk about other people, but there was probably a much larger, legal reason why he couldn’t do this.
The lack of detail was disappointing for cycling fans because none of what he said was new. Only it came from Lance’s mouth. We all know what was done, but how it was done was something that Lance skirted around and said that he couldn’t recall. Who doesn’t remember doping on a team bus while fans waiting outside? And who has sued so many people that he can’t remember their names? What a different world we live in.
I’m also disappointed that Armstrong’s dealings with the UCI were not discussed in more detail. Many more questions need to be answered, such as why Lance said twice that he’s not a fan of the UCI, but had no problem giving them a $25k (in 2001) and $100k (in 2005) donation when they asked for it. Travis Tygart also claims that Armstrong tried to make a $250k donation to USADA in 2004.
I’ve seen such a mixed bag of responsse and it’s clear that Lance hasn’t lost his ability to polarise. At times I found myself feeling sympathetic towards Lance, but then remembered the man we’re dealing with, his past history, and the situation he’s gotten himself it. I suspect those relatively new to cycling would be shocked to hear these confessions, while the rest of us haven’t heard anything new as we’ve gradually heard the story come out over the past 12 years. The word of the week has been “contrition”. The regret was certainly there (I’d question the reasons), but I’m not so sure about contrition.
There are still lots of good questions to be asked in part two, but I think it’s obvious how they’ll be answered. Lance still has his boxing gloves on, albeit fighting with different tactics.
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