OPINION: Lance Armstrong built a legend on cheating, bullying and lies. The disgraced United States cyclist will have no chance of redemption till he is completely upfront about his appalling behaviour.
At 3pm today, New Zealand time, the world will learn exactly what Armstrong told US television queen Oprah Winfrey in a 2 1/2-hour interview recorded earlier this week.
He is said to have finally admitted using performance-enhancing drugs. The crucial test will be how far he goes.
Tearful pleas for understanding will not be enough. Nor will it be acceptable for Armstrong to try to justify his cheating on the grounds everyone else was at it. There were plenty of clean cyclists at the time he was dominating the Tour de France, athletes robbed of their rightful place in the record books by his unfair advantage.
To have any shot at salvaging his name, Armstrong must admit the full extent of his own doping, confess to forcing team-mates to use performance-enhancing drugs against their will and apologise for deceiving the world for more than a decade.
He must accept that what he did was inexcusable, that he alone bears full responsibility for his actions and that he was never a hero, but the lowest of the low in professional sport: a drug cheat. He must also commit to co-operating with the US and world anti-doping agency investigations into the culture of drug use that has blighted cycling and could yet lead to it being expelled from the Olympic Games.
Anything less, and the fans, sponsors, sports administrators and fellow competitors he duped for so long will rightly conclude that he is not genuinely contrite.
For years, Armstrong presented himself as the ultimate tale of triumph in the face of adversity. He was the man who had overcome cancer and gone on to win the world's greatest cycling race seven years in a row, then used his prominence to set up a cancer charity to help others.
Last year, US Anti-Doping Agency exposed the real Lance Armstrong. It stripped him of all his competitive results since August 1998 and banned him for life after finding he had led a ''massive team-doping scheme, more extensive than any previously revealed in professional sports history''.
As well as being a prolific user himself, he had forced team-mates to follow suit or be replaced. ''He was not just a part of the doping culture on his team,'' the agency said, ''he enforced and reinforced it.''
There is reason to be sceptical about Armstrong's decision to grant Winfrey the interview. She is hardly known as a robust inquisitor. Her principle aim is to drive up ratings, rather than necessarily get at the truth.
Armstrong promised last week that no topic would be off-limits during the interview, and that he would answer Winfrey's questions ''directly, honestly and candidly''. The world will find out this afternoon whether he was speaking honestly, or simply telling more lies.
Armstrong won his fame and considerable fortune on the back of a prolonged and ugly fraud. It is now time for him to admit the truth.
- © Fairfax NZ News