Posted: Jan 18, 2013 12:57 AM by NBC Sports
That was Lance Armstrong's response to Oprah Winfrey's initial question in her much-publicized interview with the former seven-time Tour de France winner, aired on Thursday night, on whether he used performance-enhancing drugs to aid his victories in all seven of the prestigious races.
Armstrong said a "win at all costs" mentality and "arrogance" were behind his cheating, and accepted blame for his mistakes, saying he deserves the scrutiny he's now come under in the wake of being stripped of his titles.
Armstrong answered "yes" to separate questions about whether he used EPO, whether he partook in blood transfusions, whether he took human-growth hormone and whether he used performance-enhancing drugs in all seven of his Tour de France victories. He answered "not in my opinion" when asked if he felt his accomplishments were possible without the assistance of banned substances.
Armstrong did insist that he did not use performance-enhancing drugs beyond 2005, and that his third-place finish in his 2009 comeback to the Tour de France was clean.
Reflecting back on his era of cycling dominance, Armstrong said that "the winning was almost phoned in," and he did not feel bad about using banned drugs, and furthermore did not feel that using banned drugs was cheating, revelations that he now, in hindsight, finds "scary." In a moment of contrition, Armstrong said that his longtime supporters "have every right to feel betrayed," and that he'll spend the rest of his life apologizing to make it up to them.
On the topic of illegal testosterone use, Armstrong had a controversial excuse, saying he used it because he was running low on his natural supply of the hormone due to his battle with cancer.
Armstrong insisted that there was no directive within his U.S. Postal Service team requiring riders to conform with the doping program in which he and other riders partook. That stands in contrast with statements from former teammates, notably Christian Vande Velde, who says he was threatened with being kicked off the team before partaking in the program.
Armstrong also confessed to being "a bully," and wanting to control the narrative, reacting negatively to statements he didn't like. It's a pattern of behavior Armstrong said has followed him his entire life, and one evident in Armstrong's frequent denials of doping over the years before and since his retirement.
When asked pointedly whether he required or expected teammates to dope for the sake of achieving a certain level of team success, Armstrong responded, "absolutely not."
Armstrong flatly denied claims by former teammates Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis that he tested positive for EPO at the 2001 Tour de Suisse and told Hamtilton and Landis at the time that the positive test would not be made known.
Armstrong called Landis' decision to speak out about Armstrong's use of banned substances the tipping point of his cover-up, along with his 2009 comeback, which Armstrong claims did not sit well with his former teammate. Landis' comments sparked a two-year investigation into Armstrong by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which in-turn sparked the USADA investigation that resulted in Armstrong's titles being stripped and him being banned from elite competition last year. Armstrong said he regrets coming back to cycling, telling Winfrey, "If I didn't come back we wouldn't be sitting here."
Armstong hesitated before responding, "No," when asked if Dr. Michele Ferrari was at the head of the team's doping program, but also said he was reckless to be involved with the Italian physician and cycling coach, who's been issued a lifetime sports ban by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency for multiple anti-doping violations. Armstrong characterized the entire period of his life as "reckless."
Armstrong said a donation made to UCI, cycling's chief organizing body, was made "because they asked me to," and not in an attempt to bribe officials to hide positive test results.
Winfrey pressed Armstrong on the topic of lawsuits filed against people who spoke out against Armstrong, among them Emma O'Reilly, a former masseuse for the U.S. Postal Service team. "It's a major flaw," Armstrong said of lawsuits against O'Reilly and others who were speaking the truth. "It's a guy who expected to get whatever he wanted and control every outcome. It's inexcusable."
Armstrong said he called Betsy Andreu, wife of former teammate Frankie Andreu and frequent victim of Armstrong's verbal abuse in recent years, and had a 40-minute phone coversation in which he saught to apologize for his behavior. However, Armstrong refused to discuss Andreu's 2006 claim of overhearing him discuss his doping regimen with cancer doctors at an Indianapolis hospital in 1996. He did, though, admit to insulting Andreu and O'Reilly with words like "crazy" and "whore," among others.
The International Olympic Committee didn't wait to listen to Armstrong's interview to act.
The IOC on Wednesday stripped Armstrong of his 2000 bronze medal, sending him a letter asking him to return it, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision had not been announced.
For others who will tune in Thursday, it's not just what Armstrong said that matters. How he said it, whether angry, tearful or matter-of-fact, will be judged as well.
"I left it all on the table with her and when it airs the people can decide," Armstrong said of his interview in a text sent to the AP on Wednesday. He dismissed a story earlier in the day that described him as "not contrite" when he acknowledged doping while dominating the cycling world.
Livestrong, the cancer charity Armstrong founded in 1997 and was forced to walk away from last year, said in a statement it expected him to be "completely truthful and forthcoming." A day earlier, World Anti-Doping Agency director general David Howman said nothing short of a confession under oath - "not talking to a talk-show host" - could prompt a reconsideration of Armstrong's lifetime ban from sanctioned events. And Frankie Andreu, a former teammate that Armstrong turned on, said the disgraced cyclist had an obligation to tell all he knew and help clean up the sport.
"I have no idea what the future holds other than me holding my kids," Armstrong said in the text.
Armstrong has held conversations with officials from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, including a reportedly contentious face-to-face meeting with USADA chief executive Travis Tygart near the Denver airport. It was USADA's 1,000-page report last year, including testimony from nearly a dozen former teammates, that portrayed Armstrong as the leader of a sophisticated doping ring that propelled the U.S. Postal Service team to title after title at the Tour de France. In addition to the lifetime ban, Armstrong was stripped of all seven wins, lost nearly all of his endorsements and was forced to cut ties with Livestrong.
According to a person with knowledge of the situation, Armstrong has information that might lead to his ban being reduced to eight years. That would make him eligible to compete in elite triathlons, many of which are sanctioned under world anti-doping rules, in 2020, when Armstrong will be 49. He was a professional athlete in the three-discipline sport as a teenager, and returned to competition after retiring from cycling in 2011.
That person also said the bar for Armstrong's redemption is higher now than when the case was open, a time during which he refused to speak to investigators. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing a confidential matter.
Armstrong, who always prized loyalty on his racing teams, now faces some very tough choices himself: whether to cooperate and name those who may have aided, abetted or helped cover up the long-time use of PEDs.
Armstrong left his hometown of Austin, where the interview was taped at a downtown hotel, and is in Hawaii. He is named as a defendant in at least two pending lawsuits, and possibly a third. The Justice Department faces a Thursday deadline on whether to join a whistle-blower lawsuit filed by former teammate Floyd Landis, who was stripped of the 2006 Tour de France title for doping.
That suit alleges Armstrong defrauded the U.S. government by repeatedly denying he used performance-enhancing drugs. Armstrong could be required to return substantial sponsorship fees and pay a hefty fine. The AP reported earlier that Justice Department officials were likely to join the lawsuit.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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