Lance Armstrong said it would take the rest of his life to make amends to those he had wronged and that some would never forgive him. Judging from the early reaction to his interview with Oprah Winfrey, that may be the only thing his critics agree with.
Response to the much-anticipated interview was quick and scathing.
Journalists who had defended him lashed out in anger and demanded more disclosure. Sporting bodies called for him to testify under oath. Other athletes slammed him as despicable. And many questioned his honesty and his carefully measured choice of disclosures.
“He hasn’t totally uncovered exactly what was going on and he didn’t want to get into naming names,” British Olympic champion cyclist Nicole Cooke told BBC radio. “We really I think still need to get to the bottom of the Lance Armstrong fraud … Lance Armstrong should’ve been taken to, you know, a court, not an Oprah Winfrey sofa.”
In perhaps the most cutting take, an Irish cancer survivor slammed Mr. Armstrong for giving millions “false hope.” Niall Farrell described being a scared 13-year-old boy in need of a hero. He was inspired by Mr. Armstrong’s survival and sporting success and remembered thinking how he’d tell his grandchildren about the time the cyclist waved at him.
“In my head, I knew that you doped all along. But I just wouldn’t let my hero, the person who made me believe again, be destroyed,” he wrote. “But you lied. You lied to me and everyone else … on top of that, you bullied journalists, fellow cyclists and anyone else who dared question you. You were ruthless and relentless, as you said to Oprah, but to blame that on a failure to adapt to life after treatment is sickening. Stop using cancer as an excuse Lance.”
And John Fahey, president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, dismissed the former cyclist’s contention that it wasn’t cheating to dope, because others were doing it as well.
“He was wrong, he cheated and there was no excuse for what he did,” Mr. Fahey told The Associated Press. “If he was looking for redemption, he didn’t succeed in getting that.”
The interview gave Mr. Armstrong the chance to offer a polished and carefully prepared take on his version of the truth. But two incidents in particular jarred with the softer, gentler side he sought to portray.
At one point he laughed a bit as he acknowledged that, having gone after so many people in court, he couldn’t remember if he had sued Emma O’Reilly. The former team assistant witnessed him cover up a positive drug test and was labelled, by him, a whore for going public. Using the passive voice, as if the treatment of her was an unfortunate incident he’d witnessed, he said blandly “she’s one of these people that got run over, got bullied.”
And in what seemed to be a bizarre attempt at mitigating some of his bullying, he made a special of point of noting to Ms. Winfrey that while he may have maligned another accuser, Betsy Andreu, he didn’t criticize her weight. He had phoned Ms. Andreu to try to clear the air, he explained. “I said 'listen, I called you crazy. I called you a bitch. I called you all these things, but I never called you fat'."
Ms. Winfrey didn’t appear to know how to take this admission and CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who had Ms. Andreu on his show Thursday evening, said his jaw dropped.
“That exchange, right there, it has me furious,” Ms. Andreu said in an emotional interview. “This is a guy who used to be my friend who decimated me. He could have come clean. He owed it to me. He owes to the sport, that he destroyed.”
Mr. Armstrong’s interview with Ms. Winfrey, the second part of which is scheduled to air Friday evening, comes as he struggles on several fronts to turn the page on his years of lies and cheating. He is said to be keen to have his lifetime ban on sanctioned sport reduced, apparently in hopes of earning appearance fees by racing triathlons, and is reportedly negotiating with the United States Department of Justice in hopes of avoiding a suit for having defrauded the U.S. government.
The television appearance seems part of a third battle, in the court of public opinion, as he tries to rebuild his battered image. But that may be too steep a hill to climb.
“This man should be behind bars for what he did,” said Irish journalist Paul Kimmage, who endured years of bullying as he pecked away at the Armstrong myth. “He’s not the first cheat in the sport, but the misery he inflicted on good people separates Lance Armstrong from the pack.”
His star is now so tarnished that the Washington Post headlined an analysis piece “Is Lance Armstrong the World’s Biggest Liar?” The Daily Telegraph called him “beyond redemption.” A spoof Nike ad suggesting “Just inject it” popped up.
“Lance Armstrong did more than admit he cheated to win his seven Tour de France titles. He revealed a measure of the man that he is and this much is certain: If you never met this jerk, well, count your blessings,” Dan Wetzel wrote at Yahoo! Sports.
“The more Armstrong talked Thursday, the more it became obvious: This seems like the last and least likable individual you'd want to hang around. He was, and likely remains, nothing but a machine of personal glorification, no concept of his real place in the world. Now that the truth is out, it's not about the cheating so much as it's about the way he fought dirty to protect the cheating.”