Armstrong seeks first step on redemption road
Fans and critics of Lance Armstrong will be watching on Thursday for the breadth of the shamed cyclist's doping admission and the depth of his contrition when his interview with Oprah Winfrey is aired.
Armstrong's first interview since he was shorn last year of the seven Tour de France titles that helped make him a cycling icon was recorded on Monday in Austin, Texas.
Winfrey, a US television icon known for empathetic celebrity interviews, said she believed "the most important questions" were asked "and the answers that people around the world have been waiting to hear were answered".
What remained tantalisingly unknown was Armstrong's demeanour in the interview, which will run in two parts, on Thursday and Friday on Winfrey's OWN cable network and website.
Winfrey said that she felt Armstrong was "thoughtful" and "serious" in his approach to what became an "intense" interview. But she said she would leave it up to viewers to judge whether he was remorseful.
"I would rather people make their own decisions about whether he was contrite or not," she said.
Armstrong's choice of Winfrey as a confessor is a stunning reversal for a man who was notoriously aggressive in denying doping accusations for more than a decade, vilifying any who had the temerity to challenge him.
After numerous leaks to the news media, Winfrey confirmed on Tuesday to "CBS This Morning" that Armstrong admitted to using performance enhancing drugs.
But it wasn't yet clear how far that admission goes in addressing the specific violations outlined last year in the US Anti-Doping Agency's case against him.
USADA produced a devastating report, built in part on testimony of former teammates, putting Armstrong at the centre of the most sophisticated doping program sport has seen.
Specifically he was charged with using banned substances or methods including the blood-booster EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone, corticosteroids and masking agents, trafficking in those substances and in administering or attempting to administer them to others.
The International Cycling Union ratified his ban and the loss of all of his competition results from August of 1998 – erasing the record seven Tour de France titles he won from 1999-2005.
Cycling was plunged into crisis, with officials accused of turning a blind eye, or even colluding in doping.
The consequences for Armstrong were stark. Sponsors including sportswear giant Nike fled and Armstrong left the board of the Livestrong cancer charity he created.
Thursday's interview is widely seen as Armstrong's first step on a path that could eventually bring him in from the cold as a corporate partner and perhaps even as a competitor in elite triathlons from which he is now banned.
RISK OF LITIGATION
Going down such a road also carries risk, with such a belated confession potentially opening Armstrong up to litigation and the possible loss of millions of dollars or even criminal charges.
"We expect Lance to be completely truthful and forthcoming in his interview and with all of us in the cancer community," Livestrong said in a statement posted in the blog section of the charity's website.
"Inspired by the people with cancer whom we serve, we feel confident and optimistic about the Foundation's future and welcome an end to speculation."
In cycling, opinion was divided on whether any Armstrong admission could have a healing effect on the sport.
British star Bradley Wiggins said such a moment would be "a great day for a lot of people and quite a sad day for the sport in some ways".
Compatriot Nicole Cooke, however, said it was too late for Armstrong to redeem himself.
"When Lance cries on Oprah later this week and she passes him a tissue, spare a thought for all of those genuine people who walked away with no reward – just shattered dreams," Cooke said.
The interview has already been spoofed, with a Taiwanese news group releasing an animation of Armstrong turning into a vampire during his "interview" – against a backdrop of an empty trophy case.
However revelatory it turns out to be, the World Anti-Doping Agency said Armstrong's TV confession would do nothing to reduce his punishment.
"Only when Mr. Armstrong makes a full confession under oath – and tells the anti-doping authorities all he knows about doping activities – can any legal and proper process for him to seek any reopening or reconsideration of his lifetime ban commence," Wada director general David Howman said.