Skip to main content

7 lessons Lance Armstrong's confession has taught us

By Ben Brumfield, CNN
updated 10:13 AM EST, Sat January 19, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency still wants an official confession under oath
  • Armstrong destroyed people on the way up, who are waiting for him on the way down
  • The cyclist cheated for years, but nobody stopped him
  • Armstrong told his own son not to defend him

(CNN) -- The fairy tale of a cancer survivor from Austin, Texas, who beat the odds to win the Tour de France a record seven times, has morphed into a parable about telling a lie.

Lance Armstrong has been revealing in his two-part exclusive interview with Oprah Winfrey Thursday and Friday night, but critics say he is leaving out important details.

There has been a lot to learn from Armstrong and from those watching him as he starts to tell the truth.

Oprah Winfrey speaks with Lance Armstrong during an interview on the controversy surrounding his cycling career on Monday, January 14, in Austin, Texas. Oprah Winfrey's exclusive no-holds-barred interview with Lance Armstrong, "Oprah and Lance Armstrong: The Worldwide Exclusive," has expanded to air as a two-night event on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network. The interview airs Thursday, January 17, and Friday, January 18. Oprah Winfrey speaks with Lance Armstrong during an interview on the controversy surrounding his cycling career on Monday, January 14, in Austin, Texas. Oprah Winfrey's exclusive no-holds-barred interview with Lance Armstrong, "Oprah and Lance Armstrong: The Worldwide Exclusive," has expanded to air as a two-night event on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network. The interview airs Thursday, January 17, and Friday, January 18.
Lance Armstrong over the years
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Photos: Lance Armstrong over the years Photos: Lance Armstrong over the years
Armstrong: "This is ugly stuff"
Analyst: Armstrong mea culpa 'brave'
Armstrong: Millions lost in future income
Armstrong says first wife knew he doped
Lance Armstrong's trail of pain
Bissinger: 'He said he was sorry'

Getting caught is just the beginning.

This is the reason for his confession. After retiring from the Tour in 2005, he made a comeback in 2009.

"We wouldn't be sitting here if I didn't come back," Armstrong told Winfrey.

Cycling colleague Floyd Landis went public in 2010 with his own doping and leveled allegations at Armstrong as well. This eventually led to investigations against Armstrong.

Alternative steps for redemption

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which tests Olympic athletes for performance enhancing drugs, praised his televised interview as a "small step in the right direction."

But it still would like a full confession of all of his doping activities, under oath at the USADA. The agency had started an investigation against Armstrong, who sued to try to stop it.

He told Winfrey he wishes he'd cooperated freely back then, but now that he has a second invitation to do so, he is approaching it with a caveat.

Armstrong said he would participate if the agency forms a broad "truth and reconciliation commission," involving doping across the sport of cycling.

Blaming yourself is not the same as telling it all.

"I deserve this," were his comments on his fall from grace to public disgrace. In the interview he disparaged his own character for hours, calling himself "deeply flawed," "ruthless" and "arrogant."

"I was a bully," he told Winfrey of how he treated others who might expose his doping and lies.

'I want to compete again'

Armstrong admitted to personal guilt but was careful not to implicate others.

Things escalated to the level they did "because of my actions and because of my words, and because of my attitude and my defiance," he said.

But he also blamed the culture of cycling during the time he doped, saying the practice was widespread and just as much "part of the job" as water bottles and tire pumps.

There were also allegations he still denies, like coercing teammates to dope as well.

People will believe a lie.

Armstrong cheated for years, and no one in the sport of cycling stopped him. He lied under oath about his use of performance enhancing drugs. "Hundreds of millions," as Armstrong has put it, believed him, adored him, and many wore yellow bracelets, because he inspired them.

Source: Federal probe unlikely to reignite

The fairy tale image was "one big lie that I repeated a lot of times," Armstrong said. It became impossible to live up to and it fell apart.

He publicly derided those trying to expose him, ruining some of their lives. "We sued so many people," Armstrong told Winfrey -- people who were telling the truth and lost to him in court in spite of it.

It was about controlling the narrative of his heroic story. "If I didn't like what somebody said ... I tried to control that and said that's a lie; they're liars," Armstrong said.

"Now the story is so bad and so toxic, and a lot of it is true," he said.

Be nice to people on your way up.

You may meet them on your way down. Lance has. And now the tables have turned.

Why we cheat

"This was a guy who used to be my friend, who decimated me," said Betsy Andreu, the wife of one of Armstrong's former teammates, who went public with doping allegations against Armstrong.

Andreu, author Daniel Coyle, journalist David Walsh, whom Armstrong attacked for writing about his doping for over a decade, former teammates and others he has discredited and sued have now gained plausibility.

They are already critiquing his confession and casting doubt on its completeness. Andreu and Coyle have called Armstrong out over his denial of allegations that he coerced teammates to use performance enhancing drugs.

It's hard to regain trust.

Armstrong's lies and bullying rattled his fans, former friends and teammates, even his own children.

"I will spend the rest of my life ... trying to earn back trust and apologize to people," Armstrong told Winfrey.

Sunday Times journalist Walsh believes the cyclist's bullying was worse than his lies and left behind deeper scars.

Cancer survivors' mixed feelings

"He never showed any compassion during his years or any sense that it troubled him to destroy other people," Walsh said.

Armstrong said he had been ruthless because he "expected to get whatever he wanted and to control every outcome."

"There will be people who hear this and never forgive me," he said. "I understand that."

The emotional damage to his children seemed to touch him the most.

Appearing to hold back tears, Armstrong said he confessed to the three oldest children over the recent holiday break. "The older kids need to not be living with this issue in their lives," the athlete said. "It isn't fair."

Speaking specifically about his 13-year-old son, whom he had heard defending him, Armstrong said he told the youth: "Don't defend me anymore."

Hindsight is 20/20.

The former Tour de France icon said he did not think there was anything wrong with what he was doing at the time he did it -- something he today finds "scary." That he didn't feel guilty was in retrospect "even scarier."

That he did not think it was cheating is the "scariest" part. "I viewed it as a level playing field," he said, where most everybody doped.

Livestrong likely to survive

Armstrong also does not believe he could have won cycling's most prestigious race seven times in a row without performance enhancing drugs. And his success was not synonymous with contentment.

"That wasn't the happiest time of my life," Armstrong said of his championship years. He told Winfrey he felt happier giving her his confession.

But his doping and bullying years also weren't the worst in his life, he said. The time of his cancer diagnosis was worse.

The bigger they are, the harder they fall.

Armstrong would like to compete again but has no interest in returning to the Tour de France. He'd like to be able to run in the Chicago Marathon when he's 50, but the punishment he's been slapped with won't allow it.

"I can't run the Austin 10K," he said. "Anything that is sanctioned" by an official governing body is ruled out.

"This may not be the most popular answer, but I think I deserve it (being allowed to compete), maybe not right now," Armstrong said. A six-month suspension is customary for doping he said, but he received a "death penalty."

Now that he has been caught and has confessed, lawsuits he won could be reviewed, and his victims could come after him, tearing away at his fortune.

But the nadir, Armstrong says, was his departure from his cancer awareness charity Livestrong, which distributed the iconic plastic yellow bracelets.

It happened in two phone calls.

They first asked him to resign as chairman of the board.

The second call was less to the point. "We need you to consider stepping down for yourself," Armstrong said he was told.

He got out of the way and hopes the charity, which was built on his debunked fairy tale legacy, can carry on without him.

"It hurt like hell," Armstrong said. "That was the lowest."

Armstrong's golden halo in the sport's annals has decayed to a black mark. No other cyclist was awarded the victories he was disqualified from.

In place of a record seven wins by Lance Armstrong, the chronicles of the Tour de France bear seven record vacancies.

No one won.

Cycling, facing an uphill climb, hopes next hero just around bend

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Lance Armstrong
updated 10:13 AM EST, Sat January 19, 2013
The fairy tale of a cancer survivor who beat the odds to win the Tour de France a record seven times has crashed and burned. What can we learn?
updated 10:18 AM EST, Sat January 19, 2013
When it comes to seeking public redemption for crimes and misdemeanors, such as cheating in the Tour de France, surely being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey is, well, cheating.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Fri January 18, 2013
In July, when the riders of the Tour de France headed into Paris during the final stage of the race, they gave the honor of leading the pack onto the Champs-Elysees to George Hincapie.
updated 10:25 AM EST, Sat January 19, 2013
After years of tenacious spin that he was innocent, Lance Armstrong confessed said he used performance-enhancing drugs.
updated 1:06 PM EST, Fri January 18, 2013
Armstrong still must face judgment from a different group of fans: those who have personal experience with cancer.
updated 11:06 PM EST, Thu January 17, 2013
In a sense, Fred Schuster has a permanent reminder of disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong etched into his skin.
updated 1:43 PM EST, Fri January 18, 2013
Jan Ullrich of Germany (left/silver), Viacheslav Ekimov of Russia (center/gold) and Lance Armstrong of the United States (right/bronze) celebrate their medals after the final of the Men's Individual Time Trial at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.
Cheating arises from desires, incentives, pressures.
updated 7:56 AM EST, Fri January 18, 2013
Lance Armstrong
Lance Armstrong admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs. Here's a look at what they are, and how they work.
updated 2:39 PM EST, Fri January 18, 2013
CNN asked for views on whether disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong deserves another chance.
updated 8:46 AM EST, Thu January 17, 2013
Armstrong has not only spent years vehemently denying using banned performance-enhancing drugs; he also has viciously attacked those who told what they knew about doping in the sport and implicated him in the process.
updated 4:27 PM EST, Tue January 15, 2013
The court of public opinion weighed in decidedly against Lance Armstrong, even before the broadcast of an interview in which he is said to acknowledge using performance-enhancing drugs after years of denials.
updated 6:14 PM EST, Fri February 22, 2013
Lance Armstrong's feat of winning seven consecutive Tour de France titles was like the demigod Hercules achieving his "Twelve Labors."
updated 3:40 PM EDT, Mon October 22, 2012
The International Cycling Union announces hat Lance Armstrong is being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles.
ADVERTISEMENT