Cycling legend Lance Armstrong’s fierce defense of his record finally collapsed Thursday as he admitted that his seven Tour de France titles were fueled by an array of drugs.
“I made my decisions. They’re my mistake,” Armstrong told US talk show host Oprah Winfrey said, in his first interview since he was stripped of his record yellow jersey haul and banned from sport for life. “And I’m sitting here today to acknowledge that and to say I’m sorry for that,” Armstrong said. “I view this situation as one big lie that I repeated a lot of times.”
“Certainly, I’m a flawed character,” said Armstrong, who was once revered as a cancer survivor who beat the odds to succeed on cycling’s greatest stage, then used his fame to help others fighting the disease. It’s just this mythic, perfect story,” he said. “And it wasn’t true.”
Winfrey’s much-anticipated interview opened with a rapid-fire series of “yes” or “no” questions that saw Armstrong admit to using the blood-booster EPO, blood-doping transfusions and testosterone and human growth hormone.
He said he didn’t believe that in his years of competition it was possible to win cycling’s greatest races without performance enhancers. “All the fault and all the blame here falls on me, but behind that picture and behind that story there’s momentum, momentum,” Armstrong said. “And whether it’s fans or whether it’s the media … it just gets going and I lost myself in all that,” he said.
In those years, Armstrong said, he didn’t even think of himself as cheating. He didn’t feel he was doing something wrong. “Scary,” Armstrong said.
He admitted he bullied people who didn’t go along with the “narrative” he constructed, but categorically denied forcing team-mates to dope. He declined to characterize Italian doctor Michele Ferrari as the mastermind of the doping program on the US Postal Service cycling team.
Armstrong took issue with some points in the damning US Anti-Doping Agency report that lifted a lid on his activities, saying he didn’t believe the doping program on the US Postal Service team was the biggest in the history of sport. He said it couldn’t compare to the state-sponsored doping program in the former East Germany, for example. He also said he didn’t use banned drugs when he returned from retirement in 2009, and was clean when he raced in the Tour de France in 2009 and 2010 and insisted he didn’t force team-mates to be involved in doping.
“We expected guys to be fit, to be strong, to perform,” Armstrong said, acknowledging that while he never issued a directive he could see that team-mates might feel pressure to follow his example.
The International Cycling Union last year upheld the US Anti-Doping Agency’s ban of Armstrong, and the revocation of his cycling results from August 1998. This includes a 2000 Olympic time-trial bronze medal officially yanked by the International Olympic Committee on Thursday. Since the interview was taped, speculation has swirled as to whether he had implicated others – notably members of the sport’s world governing body amid allegations of complicity and cover-up. Armstrong said he thought doping was part of the culture of cycling but added that he didn’t want to accuse others.
“I didn’t invent the culture, but I didn’t try to stop the culture, and that’s my mistake and that’s what I have to be sorry for, and the sport is now paying the price because of that, and so I am sorry for that.”