Lance Armstrong said he should be given the chance to compete again after acknowledging he cheated his way through seven straight Tour de France victories.
Armstrong, in the conclusion of an interview with Oprah Winfrey televised last night, said former teammates received lighter penalties for drug use than the lifetime ban he was given by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
“This might not be the most popular answer, but I think I deserve it,” he said. “I got a death penalty and they got six months. I’m not saying that’s unfair but I’m saying it’s different.”
In the second part of an interview that expanded upon the lies, cheating and doping regimen he acknowledged in the initial episode, Armstrong also said he lost $75 million in endorsements in a single day, became emotional when speaking of how he disclosed the rule-breaking to his children and said his “ultimate crime” was betraying his supporters.
“It’s interesting that Oprah broke it into two nights because I thought a more intriguing Armstrong came out tonight,” Rick Burton, the Falk Professor of Sports Management at Syracuse University, said in a telephone interview last night. “I hope it’s not because he cried but more because it seemed like he moved a little bit further down the continuum of grasping what’s going on.”
Armstrong was asked about his financial health after all of his sponsors split from him, first Nike Inc. (NKE:US) and then the others, over a two-day period in October.
“I’ve certainly lost all future income,” he said. “You could look at that day, those two days, where people left. I don’t like thinking about it, but that was a $75 million day. Gone. Gone, and probably never coming back.”
The 41-year-old American, whose survival from testicular cancer helped create the largest athlete-founded charity in the U.S., was banned in October from competing in Olympic-level sports for life. That came after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency published a 1,000-page report that said it found proof he engaged in serial cheating through the use, administration and trafficking of testosterone, erythropoietin, or EPO, and blood transfusions.
In the first part of the interview aired two days ago, Armstrong confirmed the use of all three doping methods and that he cheated during all seven of his Tour de France wins.
He said he never felt like he was cheating because doping was endemic to his generation of cyclists, and that he owed apologies to people he bullied and attacked during 13 years of emphatic denials. He called it all “one big lie.”
Armstrong described his doping regimen as “smart,” “professional” and “risk averse” in the initial segment. He said his “cocktail” was testosterone, EPO and blood transfusions, and that, because doping was widespread in his generation, he never felt he was cheating or bad about taking the drugs.
“I viewed it as a level playing field,” Armstrong said.
The first part of the interview was watched by 4.3 million people on the Oprah Winfrey Network, OWN said in a statement. It was the highest-rated weekday telecast for the network, according to the statement.
The most emotion Armstrong showed during the two-part interview came last night when he described how he told his 13- year-old son and 11-year-old twin daughters the truth after hearing that his son, Luke, had been defending him in school.
“I want you to know that it’s true,” Armstrong said he told them, frequently pausing as his eyes reddened. “I said, ‘Don’t defend me anymore. Don’t.’”
Following the USADA report, which he declined to fight, Armstrong was dropped by sponsors including Nike, Luxottica Group SpA’s (LUX) Oakley Inc., Anheuser-Busch InBev NV (ABI), Trek Bicycle Corp., and energy supplement makers FRS and Honey Stinger.
“In a way, I just assumed we’d get to that point,” Armstrong said. “The story was getting out of control, which was my worst nightmare. I had this place in my mind that they would all leave.”
Armstrong lost as much as $200 million in future earning potential, according to market analysts. His net worth was estimated at $125 million in August by Forbes Magazine, which said he made more than $10 million a year from speeches and endorsements.
After being banned, Armstrong also severed ties with Livestrong, which has raised more than $470 million since 1997, according to the foundation’s website.
“The one person that I didn’t think would leave was the foundation,” Armstrong said. “That was the most humbling moment.”
He also said the separation was the best thing for the foundation.
“The ultimate crime is the betrayal of these people that supported me and believed in me and they got lied to,” he said.
Livestrong said yesterday in a statement: “Even in the wake of our disappointment, we also express our gratitude to Lance as a survivor for the drive, devotion and spirit he brought to serving cancer patients and the entire cancer community.”
Armstrong was diagnosed in 1996 with stage three testicular cancer that spread to his lungs and brain. He returned to the Tour de France in 1999, winning the first of seven consecutive titles, six with the U.S. Postal Service team and the last with a team sponsored by the Discovery Channel.
Travis Tygart, chief executive of the Colorado Springs, Colorado-based USADA, said in an e-mailed statement following the initial part of the interview that Armstrong took a “small step” in the right direction.
“If he is sincere in his desire to correct his past mistakes, he will testify under oath about the full extent of his doping activities,” Tygart said.
Armstrong has no chance of competing again in sports if he doesn’t divulge every detail of his drug use, World Anti-Doping Agency Director General David Howman said this week.
“Would I like to run the Chicago Marathon when I’m 50, I would love to, but I can’t,” Armstrong told Winfrey.
The competition ban on Armstrong extends to all sports that are part of WADA’s doping rules.
“I’m just not sure why he needs to be in any form of sanctioned racing ever again,” said Burton, the Syracuse professor. “It only seems to me that it would invite horrible persecution and hold his youngest children up to new rounds of persecution.”
Pat McQuaid, president of the International Cycling Union or UCI, said in a statement after the initial portion of the interview aired that it was “disturbing” to watch Armstrong describe his lies and bullying.
Armstrong is in talks to return part of the millions of taxpayer dollars received by the U.S. Postal Service team, whose contract specifically banned doping, according to CBS News. The network reported this week that the Justice Department rejected a $5 million offer from the cyclist that included his participation in a federal investigation.
He faces potential legal ramification from a whistle-blower lawsuit filed by former teammate Floyd Landis, and possible suits from both Dallas-based SCA Promotions Inc. over bonus payments it insured and the U.K.’s Sunday Times newspaper for $1.5 million it paid Armstrong to settle a libel suit in 2006.
The Australian state of South Australia is also seeking damages or compensation from Armstrong for “several million dollars” of appearance fees from its Tour Down Under, according to ESPN.
For years, Armstrong verbally attacked anyone who questioned the validity of his achievements. Those included three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond, the first U.S. champion of the race; Emma O’Reilly, a former masseuse with his team who told of doping and cover-up strategies; and Betsy Andreu, the wife of one-time teammate Frankie Andreu, who testified that she heard Armstrong acknowledge doping prior to his cancer diagnosis.
Armstrong said yesterday that he tried to contact O’Reilly and apologized to Betsy Andreu in a recent 40-minute phone call. He called his attacks a product of his competitive and bullying nature.
“I was just on the attack,” he said. “Territory being threatened, team being threatened, reputation being threatened, I’m going to attack.”
On Nov. 10, Armstrong posted a picture on his Twitter account of him lying on a couch, with seven of the Tour de France yellow leader jerseys he won -- and was then stripped of -- framed on the wall behind him.
“That was another mistake,” Armstrong said in last night’s telecast. “That was more defiance, and you know what’s scary is, I actually thought it was a good idea.”
Near the end of the interview, which was taped this week at a hotel in Armstrong’s home town of Austin, Texas, the former cyclist said it will be an “epic challenge” to recover from his mistakes.
“He’s got a chance to, for the rest of his life, kind of get it right,” Burton said. “It will be interesting to see whether he has that capacity.”
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