Soft questions over for Armstrong

21:05, Jan 21 2013

I was duped by Lance Armstrong last week. Not about whether he was a drugs cheat. I've never doubted that. Despite his vehement protestations, there's been far too much evidence.

No, it was his 2 1/2-hour interview with Oprah Winfrey, spread over two days. I watched it all, fascinated that someone who had been so arrogant and defiant could backflip so totally.

Afterwards I felt pretty good. Big Lance, one of the great drugs cheats, had fessed up.

But in the days since, I've felt increasingly disconcerted. What did we really learn from all that talk?

I suppose we know that the line: "I have never failed a drugs test" is meaningless. But those of us who follow sport closely already knew that.

We knew it even before the arrival of sprint queen Marion Jones, who was jailed after taking drugs then lying under oath. She too, never failed a drugs test.


I knew it in 1988, when Florence Griffith Joyner ran breathtaking sprint times that no-one has even approached since, then quickly retired. She never failed a drugs test either, but it was blindingly obvious she was a cheat.

Armstrong wouldn't concede that he had orchestrated his Tour de France team's drug- taking regime. He portrayed himself as just one of the boys.

That is false. He put together every aspect of his Tour de France campaigns. Why would he leave something as important as the drugs to other people?

He wouldn't name anyone who was complicit in the cheating, as if adhering to an unwritten code of conduct. Noble, but hardly helpful in cleaning up his sport.

There was no satisfactory explanation for why he paid the International Cycling Union hundreds of thousands of dollars, except that they asked for money.

The accusation is that he was paying off officials who had got hold of a positive Armstrong test. He denied that.

He also denied he'd failed a test during the 2001 Swiss tour. It is common knowledge on the cycling circuit that he did.

Armstrong claimed he'd ridden his comeback tours, in 2009 and 2010, clean.

That, too, is almost certainly a lie. Tests of his blood during those tours point to someone who was tampering, perhaps blood doping.

Armstrong said the dossier of evidence produced by the United States Anti Doping Agency had cost him US$75 million (NZ$90m) in lost sponsorship.

I've been thinking about that, too. Armstrong is worth conservatively US$100m. It's money gained by cheating. He had no right to the prizemoney or all those lucrative endorsements.

Rather, he deprived deserving cyclists - because not every rider cheated - of money, titles and glory.

He said he was sorry for how he had treated his accusers. He has ruined their lives, bringing his considerable influence to bear to run them out of the sport, labelling them psychos and sluts, saying they had no credibility and so on.

As I reflect on the interview, I feel he is sorry, but mainly that he made the comeback that led to him being caught. He said he'd been punished more heavily than other athletes in his situation.

Finally, there was the interview itself. Winfrey regards herself as big a star as her subject. She had neither the knowledge nor the interviewing skill to push Armstrong to places he didn't want to go.

If he's truly contrite, he'll appear before an inquiry, swear his evidence on oath and really come clean.

What happened the other day was just the first step in a public relations campaign designed to rehabilitate him.

Joseph Romanos is a Wellington sports writer and broadcaster.

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