By Dan Levy
Lance Armstrong began his sit-down interview with Oprah Winfrey with a smirk and a deep swallow. Then he admitted, for the first time in public, that he took performance-enhancing drugs during all seven of his Tour de France victories.
Armstrong not only told Oprah that he doped, but said he does not believe he would have won those races without cheating. The admission doesn’t change anything.
Lance Armstrong is a liar. He told Oprah that much throughout their taped interview. He spent more than a decade concealing the truth of his cheating, going to enormous lengths to hide his secret, destroying careers and lives in the process.
And yet, during this come-clean interview, he continued to lie. Many of Armstrong’s claims to Oprah were in direct contrast to hours and hours of testimony provided by his former teammates, trainers and—as part-owner of the cycling team for which he raced—employees.
“[It's] too late,” Armstrong admitted. “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.”
It is too late. His career is long over and the path he took to become one of the world’s greatest athletes has already been tarnished. Admitting what he did now, months after he was finally caught—and after his lawsuit was squashed, leaving him with absolutely no other options but to confess—Armstrong can’t change the public opinion of him.
“I see that [sworn testimony from 2005 in which he lied to investigators while under oath] and I say ‘look at this arrogant prick.’ I say that today.”
We said it then. When Armstrong defiantly denied using drugs, under oath, we said it. When he spat in the face of those who told the truth, we said it then. When he defended his doctors and drug peddlers in sworn testimony, we said it then. We said it all then, and we are still saying it today.
“I am flawed, deeply flawed.”
In his effort to come clean, Armstrong left a lot of, shall we say, inconsistencies up for inspection. He claimed he was clean during his return to cycling in 2009 and 2010, pointing out the advanced testing methods made it much harder to cheat. He claims he never forced his teammates to do drugs. He refused to mention names, even those who have already been caught before him.
There were some times of honesty, in the moments that really don’t matter. Armstrong admitted that he didn’t think he was a cheater. He admitted he didn’t feel, at the time, that taking drugs was doing anything wrong. He admitted he viewed the sport as a level playing field. He admitted that taking performance enhancers were akin to “pumping up the tires, filling up the water bottles.” It was just what they did.
The world certainly appreciates that candor. It’s just too late, and not enough.
Armstrong told Oprah he’s finally seeing the anger and disappointment people have in him. He sees how mad the people who “believed in me and believed me” are. He doesn’t blame them. But he neglects to mention to Oprah that he was in talks with the United States government about turning on some of his former co-conspirators to lessen his ban. She asked specifically about it and Armstrong went on a meandering story about being the first one in the door if he’s invited to talk about cleaning up the sport.
That’s the problem with Armstrong’s interview with Oprah, and the real reason his legacy is forever tarnished; even when he sat down for three hours to tell the truth, it wasn’t the truth.
Within hours of Armstrong filming the interview with Winfrey, reports surfaced that Armstrong was in talks with authorities in the government and within the world of sports to turn on those involved in the network of cheating within cycling. When questioned about his donation to the International Cycling Union (UCI), Armstrong said he did it because they asked him, suggesting it was not a payoff for the UCI to hide a failed test result. Armstrong even laughed, knowing we wouldn’t believe him.
We don’t. Maybe that particular donation wasn’t a payoff, but it’s hard to believe a man who says to his interviewer he won’t dime out an organization when we’ve come to learn through multiple reports that he was in talks with authorities to do exactly that. Hell, Dick Pound of the International Olympic Committee even put out a statement saying if Armstrong dimes out enough leaders of the UCI, Pound would suggest the Olympics ban the sport from future competitions.
This is how deep the hole has gotten for Lance. Even in an interview to come clean—something obviously set up as a public admission to get out in front of the news before it leaked he was in negotiations with authorities—he didn’t tell the whole truth.
Hell, even when Winfrey asked if Betsy Andreu was telling the truth about a conversation in Armstrong’s hospital room where he told doctors a litany of drugs he had taken, Armstrong flat-out punted, saying, “I’m laying down on that one.” He told Winfrey at the beginning of their conversation that nothing was being held back, then held back one of the key elements of his drug history.
Andreu, on CNN immediately after the interview, told Anderson Cooper, “I want to believe that Lance is coming clean but if this is any indication, I can’t.” She said he should not have done the interview because he flat out wasn’t telling the truth and this just made things worse for him.
She is speaking for many of us.
The irony in all of this, is that even with the admissions, nothing has changed. Armstrong ruined his legacy years ago.
“We wouldn’t be sitting here if I didn’t come back.”
That is the truth. Had Armstrong not come back, a time in which he swears he raced clean, Floyd Landis likely wouldn’t have rolled over on Armstrong and the federal investigations wouldn’t have happened. His own stupid pride, as much as the cheating and the bullying and the pain he caused for those who dared to challenge his veracity, is what created this whole mess.
If there’s a “what did we learn” from Armstrong’s conversation with Oprah, it’s that he’s finally able to understand why people hate him. It’s amazing it took him this long to notice; it’s terrible it took him so long to care.