Oprah Winfrey gets Lance Armstrong to admit blood doping and some lies, but not much else
For those who thought Oprah Winfrey might delay any admissions from disgraced cycling star Lance Armstrong to benefit her highly-hyped interview Thursday, the queen of all media surprised by getting right down to business.
Her sit-down with Armstrong, touted for days in national media as details leaked in USA Today and New York Times started with six questions which set the stage.
Did Armstrong take banned substances? “Yes.” Was one of those EPO? “Yes.” Did he do blood doping and use transfusions? “Yes.” Did he use testosterone, cortisone and human growth hormone? “Yes.” Did he take banned substances or blood dope in all seven of his Tour de France ins? “Yes.”
Did he think it was possible to win seven Tours without cheating in this way? "Not in my opinion."
Winfrey's interview revealed a matter-of-fact Armstrong who only seemed prepared to admit so much. Yes, he was sorry for acting, as his admitted, like a "bully" and a "prick." Yes, he regretted not coming clean sooner about his cheating and hurting people who tried to talk honestly about his transgressions.
But what may have been more interesting is what Armstrong didn't admit. He wouldn't talk about details of anyone else's involvement in doping and using banned substances -- not even the infamous Italian doctor Michele Ferrari, who has been banned from the sport for life over doping allegations.
He didn't detail exactly how his team's doping program worked or avoided detection, scoffing at the claim from one official at the U.S. Anti Doping Agency that it was the most sophisticated doping system in the world of sports. And he denied numerous allegations that he and his team browbeat fellow athletes into cheating to stay competitive and keep their racing careers alive.
The whole proceeding had a feeling of calculation; as Armstrong tried to look forthright and open about his transgressions while also avoiding any admissions which might leave him liable to lawsuits from others crushed by his efforts to keep the cheating secret.
Which leads to a natural question: Why talk now, especially if you're not going to totally come clean?
“I don’t know that I have a great answer,” Armstrong told Winfrey in the interview, recorded Monday in an Austin, Texas hotel. The first 90 minutes aired Thursday, with a second part scheduled to air at 9 tonight. “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.”
But for many admissions of lies, Armstrong often had a defense ready, saying most every other competitive rider used the same techniques, insisted there was a “level playing field.” Or implying that his staunchest critics have still gotten the facts of his failures wrong, denying an allegation aired on Showtime's 60 Minutes Sports that he bought favoritism from the International Cycling Union with a $100,000 donation 9he claims they asked for the money).
While detailing a phone call he mode to one women who he had called a "bitch" and "crazy" after she claimed to overhear him admitting use of banned substances in a hospital room, Armstrong recalled telling her "I didn't call you fat." For him, apparently, getting one insult wrong was enough to write off loads of other things he did say.
“I’m not the most believable guy in the world right now, I understand,” said the former star, while insisting that some of the tales told about him by critics were not true. “Yeah I was a bully. I tried to control the narrative..If I didn’t like what somebody said, when I viewed it as somebody being disloyal, I tried to control that by saying they’re a liar. They’re all liars.”
Winfrey, though prepared with clips of former teammates, critics accusations and mountains of research, seemed a bit unprepared to press Armstrong on the details on his transgressions. When he declined to answer direct questions about exactly how his team carried out their cheating she didn’t press him for deeper answers.
Instead, the woman known for making some celebrities cry on camera – though Armstrong didn’t break into sobs in Thursday’s portion of the interview as rumored – pressed Armstrong on more personal stuff.
“Fame just magnifies who we really are,” Winfrey noted at one point, saying such power and wealth can either make someone a bigger jerk or humanitarian, depending on their outlook, The implication to Armstrong: Weren’t you just acting like the jerk you always were?
“I don’t know if you pulled those two words out of thin air; jerk and humanitarian – I’d say I was both,” Armstrong added, looking at a clip of himself lying during a court deposition. “I look at that and say ‘look at that arrogant prick.' I say that today. That’s not good.”
But many commenting on the interview used a different word to describe Armstrong after seeing the interview: sociopath.
Unable to really empathize with those whose lives he upended or admit how his lawsuits, bullying and control of the sport impacted so many, Armstrong came off mostly as a guy only willing to admit what the public already knew, in some head-scratching bid to try salvaging his reputation.
Given how badly this interview went, Armstrong may find that task tough as winning another Tour de France.