Lance Armstrong says 'sorry' on Oprah's sofa

Was it a PR stunt or a moment of redemption? Whatever the truth, his apology left his reputation more exposed than ever

Los Angeles

Lance Armstrong's emotional apology to the staff of his Livestrong cancer foundation – delivered in person shortly before he met Oprah Winfrey for their interview – is said to have brought several of the workers to tears.

But if viewers expected Winfrey's soft-sofa interview technique to push the disgraced cyclist into issuing a weepy onscreen apology, they will have been disappointed.

Armstrong appeared calm and collected throughout the encounter in a bland Austin hotel room, as he picked at the remaining threads of his own reputation. In the first part of the interview, screened on Thursday evening in the US, the Texan confessed that he had used performance enhancing substances for most of his sporting career, including in all seven of his Tour de France victories. Anyone who predicted that Winfrey would begin with a gentle question turned out to have been mistaken. "Yes or no," the veteran TV interviewer demanded: "Did you ever take banned substances to enhance your cycling performance?"

Armstrong, sitting cross-legged in an open-necked blue shirt and blazer, shifted his eyes momentarily from hers, before he nodded once, almost smirking: "Yes."

His life as a champion who had overcome cancer to win clean was "a perfect, mythic story," he said. "And it wasn't true."

He said his feat of seven consecutive Tour wins from 1999 to 2005 would have been impossible without doping, and he revealed that his personal preferred "cocktail" was EPO, blood doping and testosterone. He described the US Postal Service team's doping programme as "professional", though he rejected the US Anti-Doping Agency's (USADA) claims that it was "the most sophisticated, professional and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen."

No team members were forced to dope, Armstrong said, though he admitted he was a "bully" whose battle against cancer gave him a "win-at-all-costs" mentality.

Armstrong's demeanour was not so much remorseful as relieved. At times, he even attempted levity. But if Winfrey found him amusing, it didn't show.

At the time of his Tour wins, Armstrong said he didn't consider his actions to be cheating because so many other cyclists were also using drugs. "I viewed it as a level playing field," he said. He did, however, deny having doped during his comeback Tours in 2009 and 2010, in which he placed third and 23rd respectively. He insisted the last time he used performance enhancing substances was in 2005: a claim many will find difficult to swallow. "I'm not the most believable guy in the world right now," Armstrong admitted.

Armstrong is convinced that his 2009 comeback led to his downfall. If he had decided to remain in retirement, "we wouldn't be sitting here", he told Winfrey. But his former teammate, Floyd Landis – who was stripped of his own Tour title for doping in 2006 – was unhappy about Armstrong's decision to return to competitive cycling. Landis accused Armstrong of doping in an interview with the US news programme Nightline in 2010, accusations which led finally to an investigation by the US Food and Drug Administration.

Though he failed to co-operate with that investigation, or with the USADA investigation that followed, Armstrong told Winfrey that he would now be keen to help "clean up" the sport and its image. "It's not my place to say, 'Hey guys, let's clean up cycling!' But if they had a truth and reconciliation commission… I'd be the first through the door."

Offering his apologies to anyone whom he had lied to or sued, Armstrong described himself as "deeply flawed". His victims may find other words to describe him. Whether they or the cycling community at large will ever forgive him for his misdeeds, is a question that only they can answer.

Drugs and Cancer: the connection

Lance Armstrong admitted to taking four drugs: human growth hormone (HGH), testosterone and cortisone – all of which help increase muscle strength – and EPO which boosts the body's oxygen-carrying capacity.

When he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996 the age of 25, it was rumoured it might have been caused by doping. Now, he has said he was taking drugs when he received the diagnosis. While HGH, testosterone and cortisone bulk up muscles, they can also fuel tumour growth and reduce the body's immunity. Doping may not have caused Armstrong's cancer, but it may have speeded its development.

EPO (erythropoietin), his chief drug of choice, is a hormone that stimulates the bone marrow to produce extra red blood cells, increasing the blood's capacity to carry oxygen – a big advantage in endurance sports. But EPO also thickens the blood increasing the risk of blood clots, heart disease and strokes. To avoid detection, Armstrong had blood transfusions, removing a half-litre of his blood, waiting a month while his body regenerated it, and then re-infusing it before a race. That too carries risks if it is not handled properly.

Jeremy Laurance

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence