AUSTIN, Texas (VN) — Lance Armstrong told 1,500 guests at a gala fundraiser on Friday that he had endured “a difficult couple of weeks” following the release of a report accusing him of being at the heart of the most sophisticated doping program ever seen in sport.
Making his first public remarks since the release of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s damning report, Armstrong did not refer directly to the scandal in his address, made during a 15th-annversary fundraiser for his cancer charity Livestrong.
Access was tightly controlled for Friday’s event at the Austin Convention Center, but the charity posted video of Armstrong speaking on its website.
“During the last few days a lot of people have asked me how I am doing. And I’ll tell you, I’ve been better, but I’ve been worse,” said Armstrong, who on Wednesday stepped down as chairman of the charity.
“It’s been a difficult couple of weeks for me and my family, my friends and this foundation.
“We will not be deterred. We will move forward.”
“I just have one last request,” Armstrong concluded. “Let’s have a hell of a good time tonight.”
Friday’s event raised $2.5 million, according to Livestrong.
Actor Sean Penn, who was among the attendees, said he came to support both Armstrong and the foundation.
“Lance has developed an organization that has become an inspiration to me and to others — and I think it will remain,” he said.
Asked if Armstrong himself is still an inspiration, Penn replied: “I think anyone who looks at this with a clear eye will see it as hypocritical to think otherwise.”
Kurt Cannon, an executive with Fuji Film who flew in from Philadelphia for the occasional, said he was invited to the gala for a second year after raising more than $20,000 for the charity.
“You have to separate Lance the athlete and Lance the humanitarian,” said Cannon, whose sister has leukemia. “Everybody realizes that everyone is going to be troubled by cancer at some point.”
Gerry Goldstein, a criminal defense attorney and friend of Armstrong for several years, criticized USADA’s investigation and its sanctions against Armstrong.
Drug testers never caught Armstrong when he was competing, Goldstein said.
“I’m a big fan of what he has done. Overcoming cancer and doing what he did, who gives a (expletive) about anything else? That’s so much more important as a role model and a human being,” Goldstein told The Associated Press. “Quit whining about it.”
On Sunday, Armstrong is expected to address nearly 4,000 cyclists before the start of the Livestrong Challenge, an annual fundraising ride that starts in the heart of Austin.
Editor’s note: Agence France Presse contributed to this report.