Armstrong to break silence in Oprah interview


CYCLING:It took years of defiant rejection of his critics, recovery from cancer, seven now discredited Tour de France victories and a position at the heart of the “most sophisticated doping programme sport has ever seen”. But as for so many other tarnished public figures, the journey of disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong will next week end opposite Oprah Winfrey.

Winfrey has confirmed that Armstrong, who in October was stripped of all his titles and labelled a “serial drug cheat” by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (Usada), will seek redemption on her show.

Doping revelations

In a 90-minute interview from his home in Austin, Texas, he will speak publicly for the first time about the doping revelations that led to a lifetime ban from sport. It will be streamed live on Oprah.comnext Thursday at 2am Irish time as well as broadcast in the US.

It is the first time Armstrong has given an interview since he lost his titles, was dropped by sponsors and pilloried by the public for his part in a doping conspiracy that spanned more than a decade and was described in excoriating detail in a 202-page report by Usada.

Within hours, bookmakers were offering odds about which words Armstrong would use in the interview, with Ladbrokes quoting 1-4 for “apologise” and evens for “confess”. They were offering 8-11 over Armstrong breaking down in tears.

Travis Tygart, the Usada chief executive, said in an interview last month that he hoped an Armstrong confession could yet act as a powerful symbol for drug-free sport.

But others, including another former cycling drug cheat who has since become a respected anti-doping campaigner, voiced concerns that a stage-managed talkshow was not the right forum to discuss claims that as recently as October Armstrong’s lawyer was dismissing as a “one-sided hatchet job”.

Moment of truth’

“Only Lance would get to have his moment of truth, if that’s what it will be, in front of Oprah Winfrey,” said the British cyclist David Millar, who was banned for two years in 2004 for injecting EPO.

“It is not sitting in front of a judge or a disciplinary hearing being properly questioned about the things he has done wrong. I doubt very much it will be a proper interrogation,” added Millar, who is a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s athletes commission.

“My biggest concern is that it will be completely stage-managed, and that it will all be about his emotions rather that concentrating on exactly what he did wrong.”

Not being paid to appear

A spokeswoman for the Oprah show said Armstrong was not being paid to appear and that Winfrey was free to ask any question she wanted.

The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), which will show the programme, is a joint venture between Winfrey’s Harpo Productions and Discovery Channel. Discovery was the headline sponsor of Armstrong’s team between 2004 and 2007.

It was that network’s logo that was emblazoned on his shirt when he won his seventh Tour in 2005 and claimed it as a victory over “the people that don’t believe in cycling, the cynics and the sceptics”.

Speculation has already begun on whether Armstrong will use the programme as a platform for contrition or an attempt to shift the blame. Armstrong had previously told a US tribunal that he had never used performance-enhancing drugs, opening up the possibility that he could perjure himself if he now admitted doping.

Many fear Winfrey will give Armstrong an easy ride, recalling her interview with Marion Jones, in which the weeping American sprinter claimed she took performance-enhancing drugs unintentionally.

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