Former Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong made one of the most anticipated and least surprising confessions last night during an interview with talk show host Oprah Winfrey.
Despite years of vehement denials, Armstrong finally admitted he used performance-enhancing drugs, blood transfusions, and human growth hormone during his seven-year ride at the front of the international competitive cycling pack.
Last year, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) issued a 1,000-page report detailing its conclusion that Armstrong cheated to maintain his athletic advantage. It stripped him of his seven-consecutive Tour de France titles and then banned him from ever again participating in competitive sports, the defining purpose of Armstrong’s life.
Although Armstrong told Winfrey he did not know why he decided to come clean now, the lifetime competition ban might have had something to do with it.
When he retired from competitive cycling in 2011, Armstrong announced his intention to return to his first sport—triathlons. He reportedly told friends he was desperate to get back into competition. But his lifetime competitive sports ban ended all that.
On Thursday, anti-doping officials suggested they might reconsider the ban if Armstrong testified under oath about the extent of his doping activities. In its 2012 report, the USADA described Armstrong as the ringleader of the most extensive doping scam any sport had ever seen. The agency and its worldwide counterpart still want to know who else was involved in the scheme and the cover-up that kept it secret for so long, information only Armstrong can provide.
World renowned for his arrogance, Armstrong admitted to Winfrey during the first of two 90-minute segments taped earlier this week in Austin, Texas, he was “a flawed character.” But he also said he didn’t think doping was wrong or tantamount to cheating, when he did it. His doping “cocktail” contained the steroid testosterone and the blood-booster erythropoetein, or EPO. He also used blood-doping, which involved removing his own blood and weeks later re-injecting it into his system.
The doping regimen was designed to build strength and endurance. Armstrong said he considered that part of his job as the head of the American cycling team that dominated the sport for almost a decade.
When allegations against Armstrong first surfaced in 1999, he vehemently denied the accusations and viciously pursued former teammates, friends, doctors, trainers, and journalists in his attempt at vindication. He even won a libel suit in Britain against The Sunday Times of London, which paid him $500,000 for articles it wrote about the claims. The newspaper is now seeking to have the money returned.
But the newspaper will have to get in line. After the USADA released its report, Armstrong lost almost all of his former sponsors, which paid him millions to hawk everything from bicycles to energy drinks. Some of the companies now want that money returned, claims that could leave the once wealthy athlete penniless.
When news of his interview with Winfrey and his expected confession emerged earlier this week, Armstrong stopped by the offices of the Livestrong cancer charity he founded in 1997. He apologized to the organization’s staff for concealing the truth for so long. He told Winfrey he also tried to apologize to a few of the many people he vilified and attacked during his years-long attempt to keep his reputation untarnished.
But in the end, he could no longer deny what everyone else already knew.
“This story was so perfect for so long,” he said. “It’s this myth, this perfect story, and it wasn’t true.”