After more than a decade of denials, cyclist Lance Armstrong reversed course Monday and told Oprah Winfrey that he had used performance-enhancing drugs in winning the Tour de France, according to the Associated Press.
Billed as a “no-holds barred” conversation, the interview was taped in an Austin hotel Monday afternoon, confounding news crews that had gathered outside Armstrong’s home in anticipation of Winfrey’s arrival.
The 21 / 2-hour interview will be edited to 90 minutes and aired on the OWN Network at 9 p.m. Eastern time Thursday. But the marketing push to drive viewership to the cable network started almost immediately, with Winfrey tweeting “Just wrapped up with @lancearmstrong More than 2 1/2 hours. He came READY!”
Soon afterward, CBS issued a news release that Winfrey would appear on “CBS This Morning” Tuesday to discuss the interview. The interview will be Armstrong’s first public statements since he was stripped of his record seven Tour de France titles in the wake of a damning report by U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that detailed career-long use of banned performance-enhancing substances and blood-doping practices.
The interview took place at Austin’s Four Seasons Hotel, and only a handful of people were present: Armstrong, Winfrey and camera technicians. Video of the proceedings was sent to other rooms, where advisers and staff of Armstrong and Winfrey each monitored.
While a partial confession, at the least, had been expected, it remains to be seen whether Armstrong’s manner and delivery in fielding Winfrey’s questions and providing his version of events will evoke skepticism or empathy. It’s also unclear whether there is anyone left among the viewing public to be persuaded, one way or the other, about Armstrong’s misdeeds and contrition.
One professional cyclist, British road-racing champion Nicole Cooke, made her position unequivocally clear during an interview with the BBC on Monday in which she discussed her decision to retire from the sport.
Cooke, 29, said that she had felt pressure to take performance-enhancing drugs during her career but had steadfastly refused. She lamented her bad fortune to have competed in an era when “cheats and liars” had corrupted her sport.
Citing Armstrong by name, Cooke said: “When Lance cries on Oprah later this week, and she passes him the tissue, spare a thought for all those genuine people who walked away with no rewards — just shattered dreams. Each one of them is worth a thousand Lances.”
Armstrong’s decision to break his silence has generated tremendous buzz.
In Britain, the bookmaker Ladbrokes has been soliciting wagers on specific words and phrases Armstrong might use in the Winfrey interview. The so-called “Buzzword Bingo Game” lists various options, with odds for each, on a grid. Among them: “Sorry,” 1:4; “Witch hunt,” 2:1; “Confess,” even odds; and “Never tested positive,” even odds.
Journalists stateside and abroad weighed in on what questions Winfrey should ask and whether Armstrong should be forgiven if his televised confession were complete and convincing.
In addition to being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, Armstrong, 41, has been banned from competition for life by cycling’s international governing body.
He also faces a whistleblower lawsuit that could potentially cost him tens of millions of dollars, which claims that he defrauded the federal government by doping under the banner of the U.S. Postal Service Pro Cycling Team. Filed by former teammate Floyd Landis, that suit would gain considerable momentum if the U.S. Justice Department sees sufficient merit to join the action.