Home > Sports, Storytelling, Weekend Feature > LIESTRONG: Lance Armstrong uses Oprah doping admission to direct his narrative

LIESTRONG: Lance Armstrong uses Oprah doping admission to direct his narrative

Lance Armstrong Oprah Winfrey interview EPO blood doping

There was no great outpouring of emotion. No internal struggle. Evasiveness, yes, there was a ton of that, but no true guilt. Lance Armstrong’s mea culpa doping admission to Oprah Winfrey smacked of a man trying to spin things his way – not of a man begging forgiveness from the public he so wronged.

Lance Armstrong is a fraud who was swept away – so he says – by the burning need to win at all costs. It’s what drove him to beat his cancer, and what drove him to pound all opposition into the dust.

Now, it seems, it’s what’s driven him to admit his personal sins: the self-made man of myth, who wrote his legend with seven Tour de France victories, now wants to write his own downfall, before others write it for him.

Armstrong’s confession was not your typical pro athlete weeping for forgiveness at the altar of public opinion, presided over by Oprah, the Pope of secular self-help. It was a staged surrender, a calculated ceding of territory to the enemy. He gave up what we already knew, and he offered us no quivering lip, no crocodile tears, no bottled-up emotion in a play for sympathy. He was entirely in control of himself, because he wants to be in control of his story.

Indeed, Armstrong gave the definite impression that he had a mental line he was ready to go to, and not beyond. He answered some of the heaviest questions quickly and comfortably, but when it came to his role in the doping conspiracy – and the roles of others – he tied himself in knots and avoided straight answers. Anything beyond personal admissions fell under an Omertà silence.

“I was a bully,” said Armstrong. “I was a bully in the sense that I tried to control the narrative and if I didn’t like what someone said I turned on them.”

From the calm, cool way he delivered his personal admissions while at the same time protecting the names of the others involved, Armstrong gave the distinct sense that he was still trying to control the narrative.

It was also clear Armstrong wasn’t going to fully come clean. For a man who mercilessly sold out anyone and everyone he had to to keep his reputation pristine, he was mum when it came to naming names. One can’t help but suspect he is saving those names as bargaining chips in case of future legal trouble.

He dodged or conveniently forgot the individual details of how he and his teammates beat the anti-doping agents, and he remained elusive when Oprah tried to pin him with responsibility for a team culture of doping. Armstrong – who reportedly pushed EPO and other performance-enhancing drugs on his fellow cyclists – instead blamed the cycling culture itself, and admitted only that “I didn’t do anything to try to stop the culture.”

The biggest name Armstrong refused to condemn was Dr. Michele Ferrari, the perceived mad scientist behind all the doping. That, perhaps, is the get out of jail free card in Armstrong’s back pocket. He wants his cycling ban reduced so he can compete in triathlons, and Ferrari may be his ticket to do that.

Dr. Michele Ferrari blood doping doctor to Lance Armstrong

Dr. Michele Ferrari (center) has a lifetime cycling ban for anti-doping violations.

The International Cycling Union (UCI) has already said that nothing short of a confession under oath will get them to reexamine his case; spilling his guts to Oprah means nothing in their eyes.

Armstrong was particularly evasive when it came to his “donations” to the UCI, for which he professed to have no love, but to which he says he immediately bowed when they came calling for money.

Whispers say the donation was a payoff following a positive test, but Armstrong was adamant that he has never failed a blood test. “There was no positive test,” he insisted. “No paying off of the lab. The UCI did not make that go away.”

For a woman who has built her career or self-help and redemption, Oprah did her level best to hold Armstrong’s feet to the fire. She certainly hit the questions people wanted, even if she didn’t press where she should have. She took Armstrong to task for Emma O’Reilly and Besty Andreu, who are just two of the many innocents Armstrong has railroaded along the way. Armstrong pleaded ignorance on O’Reilly and begged off commenting on Andreu, saying, “I’m not going to take that on.”

Oprah pressed Armstrong on his lead role in the US Postal Service team’s doping; she confronted him with his many adamant denials from the past; she even brought up his defiant yellow jersey tweet from last November.

Lance Armstrong Yellow Jersey Tour de France house picture gloating

Lance Armstrong, gloating at home with his yellow Tour de France winner jerseys.

Lance Armstrong met each question with a clever deflection. He didn’t want to answer, and he refused to let Oprah pull anything out of him that he wasn’t prepared to give.

While this interview might have been more illuminating were it given to CNN or 60 Minutes Sports, it landed in Oprah’s lap, and she didn’t go soft on the opportunity. Her five Yes or No questions out of the gate were a great way to go for the throat, and she certainly left the rose-coloured glasses at home. She didn’t get any new surprises, but she did get the key facts out in the open.

The biggest surprise for many, after all, was the realization that the OWN Network is in their cable package.

Lance Armstrong admitted to what we all know, but he refused to surrender more than what was already obvious.

It was, at least, a marked change from 15 years of lies like the ones in the video below.

Now, Armstrong will have hordes of enemies at the gates, ready to loot the castle.

There are gilted sponsors, slandered former teammates and a parade of others who were sued into the Stone Age by Armstrong’s busy legal team. All of them were attacked for telling the truth, and punished as though they were liars. Most of them will be back, and they’ll want restitution.

The LiveStrong Foundation – the one definitively good thing to come out of Armstrong’s web of lies – will come under scrutiny.

On top of that, longtime Armstrong foe Travis Tygart of the United States Anti-Doping Agency still wants blood, and he’ll continue to investigate Armstrong’s conspiracy of helpers.

Lance Armstrong’s next hill to climb will be a financial one, and no measure of public support will boost his abilities.

He can tell his story however he wants.

The true story is going to continue to hit him in the pocketbook, even if it doesn’t hit him in the heart.

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  1. January 21, 2013 at 3:43 am

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