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Armstrong Confesses To Doping During Cycling Career

Jan 18, 2013
Originally published on January 18, 2013 9:11 am



This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm David Greene, good morning. It was one of the most dramatic about-faces ever, by a public figure. Last night, in a televised interview with Oprah Winfrey, Lance Armstrong confessed to using banned performance-enhancing drugs throughout his bicycle racing career. That included seven straight Tour De France victories, though Armstrong was stripped of those titles late last year.

His admission follows more than a decade of often-angry denials. And while the interview with Winfrey was billed as no-holds-barred, that wasn't quite the case, as NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: We knew what was coming on Monday. That's when Armstrong and Winfrey taped the two and a half-hour interview, and when leaks about a confession killed some of the buzz leading up to last night. But still, after all the angry no's, it was startling, finally to hear Lance Armstrong say "yes" so many times.


OPRAH WINFREY: Did you ever take banned substances to enhance your cycling performance?


WINFREY: Was one of those banned substances EPO?


WINFREY: Did you ever blood dope, or use blood transfusions, to enhance your cycling performance?


WINFREY: Did you ever use any other banned substances - like testosterone, cortisone or human growth hormone?


GOLDMAN: Armstrong described how he and teammates doped with the attitude that what they were doing was as essential as putting air in their bike tires, or filling their water bottles. They didn't think it was wrong, he said. They didn't think it was cheating. It was what was needed to win; an attitude Armstrong said he embraced in a new way, after his well-publicized and successful battle with testicular cancer.


ARMSTRONG: When I was diagnosed, and I was being treated, I said - I mean, I will do anything I have to do, to survive. And that's good.

WINFREY: Mm-hmm.

ARMSTRONG: And I took that - that ruthless and relentless and win-at-all-cost attitude - and I took it right into cycling. And that's bad.

GOLDMAN: One of those targeted by that ruthlessness was Betsy Andreu. She's the wife of former Armstrong teammate Frankie Andreu. Armstrong waged a public and bitter personal battle with Andreu after she and her husband testified under oath, in the mid-2000s, that they had heard Armstrong confess in a hospital room, while being treated for cancer in 1996, that he had used banned drugs. Last night, as Betsy Andreu watched the interview, her hopes initially were high.

BETSY ANDREU: He's stepping up to the plate. You know, this is huge. It's monumental. And then, it was oh, my gosh. I think he's lying here. I think he's lying there. I think he's skirting this issue. I think he's being disingenuous.

GOLDMAN: Armstrong declined to talk about the 1996 hospital room confession. He also disputed some of the findings in October's massive U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report that hastened his downfall - findings that named Armstrong as the leader of an extensive doping enterprise.In a statement, USADA said if Armstrong is sincere in his desire to correct his past mistakes, he will testify under oath about the full extent of his doping activities.

Watching from Cambridge, England, journalist David Walsh noted Armstrong's omissions and lack of detail. But something Armstrong did say was the highlight for Walsh, whose three books on Armstrong have driven the doping narrative for almost a decade. Walsh called it hugely important for cycling that Armstrong admitted in the interview that he had a positive drug test in 1999, that was covered up by a backdated prescription written after the test result.

DAVID WALSH: That backdated prescription was accepted by the authorities, who would've known it was backdated. In other words, there was a positive test that Armstrong admits was positive, in the '99 tour; and UCI covered up for him.

GOLDMAN: When reached by NPR this morning, a spokesman for the UCI - cycling's governing body - declined to comment.

While some sifted through Armstrong's comments, Turk Pipkin watched merely with a sense of curiosity. Pipkin is a filmmaker in Armstrong's hometown of Austin, Texas. He's married to a two-time cancer survivor. He says Armstrong's story has been a source of inspiration. I ask him if it's less of one now.

TURK PIPKIN: You know, I think the inspiration part of Lance - but the personal part's been slipping for a long time.

GOLDMAN: But Pipkin says Armstrong has done genuine good for the cancer community, and Pipkin hopes Armstrong talks about that in tonight's Part 2 with Oprah.

Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.