Armstrong Admits Doping: ‘I’m A Flawed Character’

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CHICAGO (AP) — He did it. He finally admitted it. Lance Armstrong doped.

He
was light on the details and didn't name names. He mused that he might
not have been caught if not for his comeback in 2009. And he was certain
his “fate was sealed” when longtime friend, training partner and
trusted lieutenant George Hincapie, who was along for the ride on all
seven of Armstrong's Tour de France wins from 1999-2005, was forced to
give him up to anti-doping authorities.

But
right from the start and more than two dozen times during the first of a
two-part interview Thursday night with Oprah Winfrey on her OWN
network, the disgraced former cycling champion acknowledged what he had
lied about repeatedly for years, and what had been one of the worst-kept
secrets for the better part of a week: He was the ringleader of an
elaborate doping scheme on a U.S. Postal Service team that swept him to
the top of the podium at the Tour de France time after time.

“I'm a flawed character,” he said.

Did it feel wrong?

“No,” Armstrong replied. “Scary.”

“Did you feel bad about it?” Winfrey pressed him.

“No,” he said. “Even scarier.”

“Did you feel in any way that you were cheating?”

“No,” Armstrong paused. “Scariest.”

“I
went and looked up the definition of cheat,” he added a moment later.
“And the definition is to gain an advantage on a rival or foe. I didn't
view it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field.”

Wearing
a blue blazer and open-neck shirt, Armstrong was direct and
matter-of-fact, neither pained nor defensive. He looked straight ahead.
There were no tears and very few laughs.

He
dodged few questions and refused to implicate anyone else, even as he
said it was humanly impossible to win seven straight Tours without
doping.

“I'm not comfortable talking about other people,” Armstrong said. “I don't want to accuse anybody.”

Whether
his televised confession will help or hurt Armstrong's bruised
reputation and his already-tenuous defense in at least two pending
lawsuits, and possibly a third, remains to be seen. Either way, a story
that seemed too good to be true – cancer survivor returns to win one of
sport's most grueling events seven times in a row – was revealed to be
just that.

“This story was so perfect for so long. It's this myth, this perfect story, and it wasn't true,” he said.

Winfrey got right to the point when the interview began, asking for yes-or-no answers to five questions.

Did Armstrong take banned substances? “Yes.”

Did that include the blood-booster EPO? “Yes.”

Did he do blood doping and use transfusions? “Yes.”

Did he use testosterone, cortisone and human growth hormone? “Yes.”

Did he take banned substances or blood dope in all his Tour wins? “Yes.”

In
his climb to the top, Armstrong cast aside teammates who questioned his
tactics, yet swore he raced clean and tried to silence anyone who said
otherwise. Ruthless and rich enough to settle any score, no place seemed
beyond his reach – courtrooms, the court of public opinion, even along
the roads of his sport's most prestigious race.

That relentless pursuit was one of the things that Armstrong said he regretted most.

“I deserve this,” he said twice.

“It's
a major flaw, and it's a guy who expected to get whatever he wanted and
to control every outcome. And it's inexcusable. And when I say there
are people who will hear this and never forgive me, I understand that. I
do. …

“That defiance, that attitude, that arrogance, you cannot deny it.”

Armstrong said he started doping in mid-1990s but didn't when he finished third in his comeback attempt.

Anti-doping
officials have said nothing short of a confession under oath – “not
talking to a talk-show host,” is how World Anti-Doping Agency director
general David Howman put it – could prompt a reconsideration of
Armstrong's lifetime ban from sanctioned events.

He's
also had discussions with officials at the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency,
whose 1,000-page report in October included testimony from nearly a
dozen former teammates and led to stripping Armstrong of his Tour
titles. Shortly after, he lost nearly all his endorsements, was forced
to walk away from the Livestrong cancer charity he founded in 1997, and
just this week was stripped of his bronze medal from the 2000 Olympics.

Armstrong
could provide information that might get his ban reduced to eight
years. By then, he would be 49. He returned to triathlons, where he
began his professional career as a teenager, after retiring from cycling
in 2011, and has told people he's desperate to get back.

Initial reaction from anti-doping officials ranged from hostile to cool.

WADA
president John Fahey derided Armstrong's defense that he doped to
create “a level playing field” as “a convenient way of justifying what
he did – a fraud.”

“He was wrong, he cheated and there was no excuse for what he did,” Fahey said by telephone in Australia.

If Armstrong “was looking for redemption,” Fahey added, “he didn't succeed in getting that.”

USADA
chief Travis Tygart, who pursued the case against Armstrong when others
had stopped, said the cyclist's confession was just a start.

“Tonight,
Lance Armstrong finally acknowledged that his cycling career was built
on a powerful combination of doping and deceit,” Tygart said. “His
admission that he doped throughout his career is a small step in the
right direction. But if he is sincere in his desire to correct his past
mistakes, he will testify under oath about the full extent of his doping
activities.”

Livestrong issued a statement
that said the charity was “disappointed by the news that Lance Armstrong
misled people during and after his cycling career, including us.”

“Earlier
this week, Lance apologized to our staff and we accepted his apology in
order to move on and chart a strong, independent course,” it said.

The
interview revealed very few details about Armstrong's
performance-enhancing regimen that would surprise anti-doping officials.

What
he called “my cocktail” contained the steroid testosterone and the
blood-booster erythropoetein, or EPO, “but not a lot,” Armstrong said.
That was on top of blood-doping, which involved removing his own blood
and weeks later re-injecting it into his system.

All
of it was designed to build strength and endurance, but it became so
routine that Armstrong described it as “like saying we have to have air
in our tires or water in our bottles.”

“That was, in my view, part of the job,” he said.

Armstrong
was evasive, or begged off entirely, when Winfrey tried to connect his
use to others who aided or abetted the performance-enhancing scheme on
the USPS team

When she asked him about Italian
doctor Michele Ferrari, who was implicated in doping-related scrapes
and has also been banned from cycling for life, Armstrong replied, “It's
hard to talk about some of these things and not mention names. There
are people in this story, they're good people and we've all made
mistakes … they're not monsters, not toxic and not evil, and I viewed
Michele Ferrari as a good man and smart man and still do.”

But
that's nearly all Armstrong would say about the physician that some
reports have suggested educated the cyclist about doping and looked
after other aspects of his training program.

He
was almost as reluctant to discuss claims by former teammates Tyler
Hamilton and Floyd Landis that Armstrong told them, separately, that he
tested positive during the 2001 Tour de Suisse and conspired with
officials of the International Cycling Union officials to cover it up -
in exchange for a donation.

“That story wasn't
true. There was no positive test, no paying off of the labs. There was
no secret meeting with the lab director,” he said.

Winfrey pressed him again, asking if the money he donated wasn't part of a tit-for-tat agreement, “Why make it?”

“Because they asked me to,” Armstrong began.

“This
is impossible for me to answer and have anybody believe it,” he said.
“It was not in exchange for any cover-up. … I have every incentive
here to tell you yes.”

Finally, he summed up the entire episode this way: “I was retired. … They needed money.”

Ultimately,
though, it was Landis who did the most damage to Armstrong's story.
Landis was stripped of the 2006 Tour title after testing positive and
wound up on the sport's fringes looking for work. Armstrong said his
former teammate threatened to release potentially destructive videos if
he wasn't given a spot on the team. That was in 2009, when Armstrong
returned to the Tour after four years off.

Winfrey asked whether Landis' decision to talk was “the tipping point.”

“I'd
agree with that. I might back it up a little and talk about the
comeback. I think the comeback didn't sit well with Floyd,” Armstrong
recalled.

“Do you regret now coming back?”

“I do. We wouldn't be sitting here if I didn't come back,” he said.

The
closest Armstrong came to contrition was when Winfrey asked him about
his apologies in recent days, notably to former teammate Frankie Andreu,
who struggled to find work in cycling after Armstrong dropped him from
the USPS team, as well as his wife, Betsy. Armstrong said she was
jealous of his success, and invented stories about his doping as part of
a long-running vendetta.

“Have you made peace?” Winfrey asked.

“No,” Armstrong replied, “because they've been hurt too badly, and a 40-minute (phone) conversation isn't enough.”

He
also called London Sunday Times reporter David Walsh as well as Emma
O'Reilly, who worked as a masseuse for the USPS team and later provided
considerable material for a critical book Walsh wrote about Armstrong
and his role in cycling's doping culture.

Armstrong
subsequently sued for libel in Britain and won a $500,000 judgment
against the newspaper, which is now suing to get the money back.
Armstrong was, if anything, even more vicious in the way he went after
O'Reilly. He intimated she was let go from the Postal team because she
seemed more interested in personal relationships than professional ones.

“What do you want to say about Emma O'Reilly?” Winfrey asked.

“She, she's one of these people that I have to apologize to. She's one of these people that got run over, got bullied.”

“You sued her?”

“To be honest, Oprah, we sued so many people I don't even,” Armstrong said, then paused, “I'm sure we did.”

Near
the end of the first interview installment, Winfrey asked about a
federal investigation of Armstrong that was dropped by the Justice
Department without charges.

“When they dropped the case, did you think: `Now, finally over, done, victory'?”

Armstrong looked up. He exhaled.

“It's hard to define victory,” he said. “But I thought I was out of the woods.”



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