He's beaten cancer, won seven Tours, but can Lance Armstrong find redemption on Oprah Winfrey's sofa

Disgraced cyclist bids to win over US public in interview with queen of TV confessions

His reputation is shattered, his sponsors and cancer foundation have fled, he has lost the greatest prizes in sport, and lawsuits circle him like sharks. Now Lance Armstrong is responding in the way only the biggest celebrities seeking redemption can: he's talking to Oprah.

The talk show host has promised a "no-holds-barred" interview, the first by the disgraced cyclist since US anti-doping authorities revealed his key role in what they called the "most sophisticated doping programme that sport has ever seen".

But after months of surly defiance by the man who survived testicular cancer to win the Tour de France seven times, those preparing to watch the interview wonder how much he will reveal and how far Oprah Winfrey will push him.

Her sofa, or Lance's in this case – the interview will take place in his Texas home – has been the stage for some of the biggest attempted rehabilitations in sport and beyond. But Winfrey is known for her cosy rather than confrontational style, drawing tears by the gallon but rarely blood.

She drew criticism after barely challenging Marion Jones when the former sprinter claimed in an interview in 2008 to have had no knowledge of her own doping. The American had just served a six-month prison sentence for her part in the Balco scandal.

Winfrey's warmth and reach have tempted Michael Jackson and the Duchess of York, among others, to reveal perhaps more than they had planned, while her talk show has been both credited and criticised for unleashing a culture of confession that won her millions of fans.

The "Oprah-fication" of American life, as the Wall Street Journal called it, has also been observed beyond the glare of the presenter's studio lights, in the "emoting" of public figures and even presidents.

But Winfrey has struggled to maintain her influence since she quit her eponymous show in 2011 to launch the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), which has suffered from declining viewing figures and management shake-ups.

She was rumoured to be pursuing Tiger Woods before the golfer made his own televised statement four months after revelations about his infidelity. Armstrong is arguably a bigger and much-needed ratings coup.

OWN announced the interview with the cyclist yesterday. But it added nothing about the extent of any confession or the timing of the conversation, which will be broadcast on television and on line at 2am, British time, on 18 January. Nor has it revealed whether questions have been pre- approved.

Few are holding their breath in anticipation of a full mea culpa. "Armstrong has defended himself with tooth and nail for decades," said Ned Boulting, the ITV cycling commentator. "To dent his reputation in front of a global audience would represent a complete about face in the way he operates.

Armstrong's lawyers will pay closest attention to the interview. The cyclist is already facing lawsuits filed by some of the accusers he sought to silence. If he can navigate legal pitfalls while appearing contrite, he could flourish before a typically forgiving audience.

"Oprah appeals to that deep part of middle America that to some extent still wants to believe in legends," Boulting said. "There are still people on Armstrong's side and those who are swayable to his cause even if it's cast in a different light. Oprah is perfect."

Armstrong has shown little sign of contrition since he was stripped of his titles in October. In November, he tweeted a photo of himself lying on his sofa surrounded by his framed Tour de France jerseys. This week he changed his profile on Strava, a popular fitness website, to read: "According to my rivals, peers, and teammates I won the Tour de France 7 times."

Oprah: Her best mea culpas

Michael Jackson

In 1993, before he faced child abuse allegations, the late king of pop, above, talked in front of record TV audiences about plastic surgery and the whitening of his skin.

Sarah Ferguson

The Duchess of York, left, talked in 2011 about not being invited to the Royal wedding and the newspaper sting operation in which she was filmed offering an undercover reporter access to Prince Andrew for £500,000.

Whitney Houston

In 2009, the late singer, left, admitted to smoking marijuana laced with cocaine daily and revealed extent of her abusive relationship with Bobby Brown.

Barbara Walters

The American TV journalist and presenter admitted in an interview in 2008 to being unfaithful and to an affair in the 1970s with married US Senator Edward Brooke.

Marion Jones

The disgraced track-and-field athlete was still on probation in 2008 when she talked about doping after serving a six-month prison sentence for her role in the Balco scandal.

James Frey

The author admitted in 2006 to having made up details of his life in his book, A Million Little Pieces, which had become a best-seller after being endorsed by Winfrey during an earlier interview.

 

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