Yesterday the much ballyhooed interview between Lance Armstrong and Oprah Winfrey took place here in Austin, Texas. We’ll have to wait until the interview airs on Thursday to get confirmation of what was talked about exactly, but an anonymous source is telling the Associated Press that Lance did indeed fess up to using performance enhancing drugs while competing as a professional cyclists. If true, and I see no reason to believe it isn’t, the confession would be a complete reversal from years of denials and could be the first step for Armstrong towards being able to compete again.
It is also being reported that hours before he met with Winfrey, Lance asked for a meeting with the staff of the Livestrong Foundation, the organization he formed to help fight cancer. In that meeting we’re told that he gave a very heartfelt and teary eyed apology to the staff there for casting the organization in a negative light following the allegations and revelations that came out as part of the investigation led by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency last year. Armstrong supposedly vowed to put Livestrong back on the right course and to save the reputation of the charity organization.
The Livestrong staff aren’t the only people that Lance is reportedly apologizing to. Outside Online reports that he may have also reached out to Floyd Landis in an attempt to mend fences with the former teammate who also tested positive for doping at the Tour de France in 2006. Landis finished first in that race but was later stripped of the title. Afterwards, he made public accusations about Armstrong’s use of performance enhancing drugs as well, something that Lance vehemently denied. The two have squabbled public ever since, with Armstrong being particularly vicious in his attacks on Landis’ character.
According to the anonymous source to the AP, Lance admitted that he began using PEDs in the early-1990’s, prior to being diagnosed with cancer. That would prove consistent with some of the earliest allegations against Armstrong by the likes of Betsy Andreu, the wife of Frankie Andreu, another former teammate, who says she heard Armstrong confess to doping to his doctors when being treated for testicular cancer in 1996. The former Tour de France champ was also ruthless in the way he went about discrediting her and completely running her character into the ground as well.
If Lance did come clean in the Oprah interview as reports suggest, he may indeed be trying to get back into competition. He has demonstrated considerable skill at a marathon runner and triathlete in the past few years, putting up some excellent times in both sports. But according to the rules handed down by anti-doping agencies, his current lifetime ban from competition could at best be reduced down to just eight years. That’s an awful long time to go without competing. Armstrong may try to cut a deal in some other way however, providing more names and information about how he doped and who he worked with. It is possible that that could further reduce his sentence. We’ll just have to wait to see if such a deal can be made.
In the end, this confession is just the first step in a very long road to redemption in my book. Armstrong has a lot to answer for to friends, family, teammates and fans. His years of denials and personal attacks have hurt a lot of people and he needs to apologize to them as well. If he does come completely clean, makes those apologies and comes across as sincere, he’ll probably find a whole lot of people who are willing to forgive and move on. But it isn’t going to be an easy road back.
Still, I give Lance a lot of credit for stepping into this maelstrom. Some would say he didn’t have a whole lot of choices, but I would argue that he could have just as easily slipped off somewhere and stayed out of the limelight, keeping a low profile. For awhile, he is only going to be under more scrutiny and criticism, much of which probably won’t be easy to hear. But if he stays focused and honest, he has he opportunity to at least rebuild his reputation as person, if not an athlete.
Only time will tell how willing to forgive the public will be. Here in the U.S., I think many will be happy to see him back. Cycling fans abroad will probably not be quite to kind. I’ll reserve judgement until after I’ve seen the interview.