Lance Armstrong on Oprah
20th January 2013
So after years of furious denials, Lance Armstrong has finally admitted he doped to win all 7 of his Tour de France titles. While so many people have the right to be angry, I never felt it was my place to judge him. After all, I hadn’t been personally duped. I may have followed his career and read lots about him, but I wasn’t one of the millions of people around the world who bought his books or those yellow Livestrong bracelets. I wasn’t a clean cyclist who never had a chance of winning.
What I am is frustrated. Armstrong may have confessed to one of the biggest sporting frauds in history, but he only confirmed something we already knew and didn’t actually give much away. After watching the Oprah interviews, I am full of more questions. Would you have admitted doping if the United States Anti-Doping Agency hadn’t concluded that you had run "the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen"? Will you compensate those you hurt so badly? How did you manage to keep this fraud covered up for so long? Will you now help out the anti-doping community? What do you say to the millions of cancer survivors who believed in you? There are plenty more where they came from.
Armstrong dodging some of Oprah’s questions didn’t surprise me. But some of his answers did. When asked whether he wanted to be allowed to compete again, Armstrong said: ‘’Frankly, this may not be the most popular answer, but I think I deserve it.’’ I know we all wanted honesty from you Lance, but that answer was way too honest. Even if you think you ‘deserve’ to compete again, you don’t tell the world while you’re attempting to apologise for your sins. All that answer achieved was highlight Armstrong’s arrogance, rather than reveal a humble man full of remorse.
After being handed a lifetime ban from official sporting events, Lance Armstrong went back to triathlon - a sport I have been covering for a couple of years. Like so many other athletes, current Olympic-distance triathlon world champion Jonathan Brownlee grew up watching Armstrong compete and regarded him as one of his heroes. Jonny told me he doesn’t think the disgraced cyclist should be allowed to compete in the sport. The problem is, there’s an easy way to get around the ban. Even after the USADA report, Armstrong was so desired by some triathlon organisers that he trumped the need for USA Triathlon sanctioning.
Understandably, the loudest disappointment comes from within the cycling world. After Armstrong’s confession, Sir Chris Hoy tweeted: “It’s hugely frustrating to have to defend your sport because of the greed and deception of a small minority. David Millar, who was banned for two years for taking the drug EPO in 2003, and is now an active anti-doping campaigner, expressed how vital it was for Armstrong to ‘’disclose everything fully behind closed doors, under oath with the actual people who can make a difference.’’ But the angriest words came from Beijing road race Olympic champion Nicole Cooke when she announced her retirement last week: "He's got no morals and he's a disgusting human being". Nicole clearly spelt out how women’s cycling had suffered while the sport’s governing body, the UCI, concentrated on Lance Armstrong and his fellow dopers: "Whilst they have been busy with all these priorities, the women's road sport, that looked so promising in 2002 when I turned professional, has crumbled…every scandal on the men's side has caused sponsors to leave on the women's side.’’
At the end of the interview, Oprah’s closing words to Lance were: ‘’The truth will set you free.’’ I’m hoping Armstrong’s long-awaited admission of doping will set the rest of the world free…free to move on. Those of us who love sport need to push governing bodies to do all they can do keep their sport clean. We now need to focus on what clean athletes are achieving, rather than spending too much time thinking about what Lance Armstrong isn’t telling us.