After years of furious denials and a policy of omertà that kept the lid on a sophisticated cheating conspiracy for more than a decade, Lance Armstrong has finally admitted his doping past in a televised interview with Oprah Winfrey, according to the US presenter.
The cyclist, stripped of seven Tour de France titles after a United States Anti-Doping Agency (Usada) report placed him at the heart of the “most sophisticated, professional and successful doping programme sport has ever seen”, apparently disarmed Winfrey with his candour and his willingness to confess.
“He did not come clean in the manner I expected. I was surprised,” Winfrey told CBS after she had recorded the two-and-a-half-hour interview and flown from Austin, Texas to Chicago with the tapes in her bag alongside her “dog food and dog leashes”.
The interview could have severe consequences for cycling as a world sport. Dick Pound, the former head of the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) and an International Olympic Committee member, warned on Tuesday night that if Armstrong implicated cycling’s global governing body, the UCI, in covering up widespread doping, then the sport could be removed from the Olympic programme.
“We could say: ‘Look, you’ve clearly got a problem why don’t we give you four, eight years to sort it out,'” said Pound. “And when you think you’re ready to come back we’ll see whether it would be a good idea to put you back on the programme.”
There had been speculation that Winfrey, who has known Armstrong for a long time and interviewed him several times, would give the Texan an easy ride.
But she said she had been fully prepared and had drawn up 112 questions, having carefully read Usada’s 202-page judgment and the books of the Sunday Times journalist David Walsh, who has pursued Armstrong for more than a decade.
“There were a couple of times when he was emotional but emotional doesn’t begin to describe the intensity or difficulty he experienced in talking about some of these things,” said Winfrey, for whom the interview is a coup as she tries to establish her Oprah Winfrey Network channel.
“For myself, my team, we were mesmerised and riveted by some of his answers,” said Winfrey, who conducted the interview in a sparse hotel room after the intended location at Armstrong’s house was besieged by news crews.
She said it was “certainly the biggest interview I’ve ever done in terms of its exposure”.
The presenter, who claimed the material was so good that it would now be broadcast in the US over two days rather than one, starting on Thursday night, said Armstrong was also well prepared.
“Most of the important questions that many people around the world wanted to hear were answered. I was satisfied with the answers,” she said. “I thought he was thoughtful, he was serious. He had certainly prepared himself for this moment. He met the moment. At the end of this, we were both pretty exhausted.”