Lance-Lie-A-Lot, stripped of his reputation, all his lucrative endorsements, seven Tour de France titles, an Olympic bronze medal and, finally, every shred of plausible denial, didn’t exactly take it down to the nubby layer for Oprah Winfrey in that much-anticipated televised one-on-one, Part I, Thursday night.
The imposter behind the mask is still there, cunning as ever, dissembling as ever.
Launching his confessional tour in front of the cameras with the High Priestess of Celebrity Unbosoming, Armstrong refrained from jumping on the couch a la Tom Cruise (in his love-besotted phase) to declare himself, you know, ashamed, deceitful and self-loathing, a bully who sued and crucified anyone who dared cast juicing aspersions in his direction ’lo these past dozen years.
Indeed, he framed the endless mendacity as part of a continuum in the sport of cycling that seized him, crept up on him, changed him, made him a cheat and victim of his own fable.
“I didn’t invent the culture. But I didn’t try to stop the culture.
“I didn’t . . . do anything that anybody else didn’t.’’
Yet in arguably the dirtiest of all disciplines — I use the term reservedly — Armstrong was the dirtiest among them all as the face and marvel of cycling, not just a user but an apostle for performance-enhancing drugs.
He was team leader and ring leader of what’s now been exposed as a sophisticated injection and blood-transfusing enterprise on his tour-winning U.S. Postal Service squads, no less sordid than the gangs running smack on the sleazy side of town — except Armstrong was exalted, almost divine, the fellow who beat testicular cancer (he called himself “one-ball’’) and just kept pedalling.
Peddling rot, turns out.
’Fessing up, he did that with Oprah, selectively, on his own terms because The Big O is no hard-nosed inquisitor, though she tried. No fool Armstrong, when he invested Oprah with the “get’’, a splashy mutually advantageous tete-a-tete for Winfrey’s OWN network, now sinking out of cable sight. Seriously, whose head is more inflated?
Directly, honestly and candidly, no conditions, Armstrong had advertised.
So, off the top:
Did you ever take banned substances? “Yes.’’
Was one of those banned substances EPO? “Yes.’’
Did you ever blood dope or use blood transfusions to enhance your performance? “Yes.’’
In all seven of your Tour de France victories, did you ever take banned substances or blood dope? “Yes.’’
Why? Or maybe the question should be, if Armstrong had his way, why not?
“I don’t know that I have a great answer. I will start my answer by saying that this is too late. It’s too late for probably most people. And that’s my fault. I view this situation as one big lie that I repeated a lot of times. It wasn’t as if I just said no and moved off it.’’
The narrative was perfect for so long, said Armstrong, dolefully, “mythic’’, and he got caught up in the fiction of it.
“Behind that picture and behind that story was momentum. I lost myself in all that.’’
But this mea culpa with Armstrong was more tell-small than tell-all, a qualified exposition. Always an aggressive counter-attacker — hence the decade of vehement denials and smearing of accusers — he spent 90 minutes Thursday night (and more to come this evening) obliquely justifying and perpetuating the chimera of a flawed human being, nothing more.
Truth is just another strategy, a calculated risk for Armstrong, who’s contending with at least two law suits and fighting for mitigating relaxation of a lifetime ban imposed by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency so that he can compete in elite triathlons, the sport he loved before he became a pure — you should forgive the expression — cyclist.
Quickest burst out of the peloton on the road to redemption was the genesis for this performance, broadcast around the planet. And it may have worked as a first stage; that remains to be seen. In America especially, public forgiveness is never beyond reach, even for the most ignominious of knaves. They love their second acts.
Armstrong, 41, has redeeming qualities as a philanthropist. He’s raised millions since establishing his Livestrong charity in 1997, recently resigning from its board. The personal perseverance remains compelling. His apologists still assert he was the best of a bad lot, his core credentials on a bike diluted but nevertheless magnificent. Was he clean when he won the world championship in 1993, a mere 21-year-old? Or, as he stated, clean after 2005? There’s no way of knowing except to take it on faith, on Armstrong’s word. And faith is what Armstrong has forsaken.
His word ? It’s gone.
I didn’t buy it, the self-mutilation. Bollocks. This is not a humbled man. This is a guy scrapping to salvage something out of wreckage. He can be pitied, I suppose, but not reclaimed.
“I see the anger in people . . . betrayal, it’s all there. These are people who supported me, believed in me and believed me. I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to earn back trust and apologizing to people.’’
BZZZZ. Wrong answer.