They almost came. Midway through the second half of Oprah’s “confession light,” Lance Armstrong almost looked human as he described the anguish of admitting to his son that his life and fortune were built upon a Mount Everest of lies. Almost.
And he almost cried, but couldn’t. His pride wouldn’t let him, but it was a fleeting glimpse into the dark recesses of Armstrong’s tortured soul.
For millions of captivated viewers, the two-part Oprah interview was as gripping as it was infuriating. Never has sport seen such a dramatic mea culpa, yet never have so many left wanting more.
All Armstrong did was publicly confirm what the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) had already painstakingly detailed in its textbook-perfect “reasoned decision.”
Armstrong fell on the sword, but he did so alone. No mention of the UCI, Johan Bruyneel, Michele Ferrari, Pepe Martí or the Spanish doctors. Omerta lives.
In many ways the Oprah appearance was never meant to be a confession. Rather, it seemed as the first step of some sort of rehabilitation process.
Armstrong rarely acts without considering the end game, so it’s hard not to be cynical about seeing this as nothing more than stagecraft. It seemed too calculating, too rehearsed. When he backpedaled on the infamous hospital room conversation that would have meant the world to Betsy Andreu, it was as though his attorney was screaming into his earpiece: “Litigation! Litigation!”
It was unimaginable even a few weeks ago that Armstrong would ever capitulate to the “choads” and “trolls” that littered the fringes of glittering empire.
To see Armstrong admit that he was a liar, a cheat, a bully, a creep and an asshole in front of the entire world was simply jaw-dropping.
The speed with which Fortress Armstrong has been reduced to rubble is dizzying to everyone, especially to Armstrong, who seemed to hold out hope that his ever-loyal army of fans and cancer survivors would insulate him from the sting of a lifetime ban.
Yet things unraveled at warp speed and even Armstrong had no choice but to admit the obvious.
That “come-to-Jesus” moment happened sometime between his defiant Twitter posting — a provocative photo of himself lounging on his couch with his seven tarnished yellow jerseys hanging on his wall — and Christmas when he first tested the waters of a public admission via an interview with Oprah.
His sponsors had abandoned him in what he admitted was a $75 million loss of future endorsement earnings.
The bleeding continued when the foundation that bore his name forced him out (remember, Livestrong used to be a for-profit business set up in the shadow of the Lance Armstrong Foundation).
His image was thrown into the meat grinder, his golden cancer-beating superhero status chewed up and spit out. He became the poster child for cheating, towering above the likes of Ben Johnson, Barry Bonds and the Chicago Black Socks. Even worse than the East Germans.
Yet it was the moment of having to face his children that Armstrong said shook him to the core. He knew the lying had to end, if only for their sake.
With born-again contrition, Armstrong now seems to want us to believe that he’s experienced a life-changing catharsis, that he is suddenly humbled and repentant, the “old Lance” forever dead and buried, his Oprah moment proving him worthy of a second chance.
Laughably, Armstrong continues to sees himself as a victim. It came out a few times during the two-part interview. He bristled at the severity of the lifetime ban, as if he’s being unfairly targeted for crimes when others received only relatively minor bans.
As USADA outlined, Armstrong wasn’t a product of the EPO era, he was its godfather, its capo and enforcer of the omerta.
Armstrong and his cadre drove the doping culture, raised the stakes and throttled anyone who dared to stray from the accepted narrative. All the while they stuffed their pockets with millions of dollars en route to sport’s greatest swindle.
That’s the true value of the USADA case. It goes to the genus of the doping DNA. Armstrong was the final product of a conspiracy that included an army of enablers.
That’s why everyone wants more from Armstrong. His Johnny-come-lately contriteness rings hollow for those who demand names, places and details.
Even in apology, Armstrong is blind to the damage he’s caused.
Behind the shattered lives of the Andreus, the LeMonds and the O’Reillys are Christophe Bassons and Filippo Simeoni, riders whose careers ended prematurely thanks to Armstrong and his enablers. And let’s not forget the millions of cancer victims and their families who realize now that their hopes clung to a callous fraud.
Armstrong leaves a sport in tatters. His doping legacy is doing to cycling what the Romans did to Carthage, plowing salt into the earth so that nothing grows for 1,000 years. Legions of cycling fans have forever turned off to one of the world’s most beautiful sports.
Today’s peloton is a vastly different place than the corrupt, toxic pack that Armstrong ran with an iron fist. Cycling has changed from within, yet no one can see it. No one can dare believe it. No one wants to be taken for a sucker again.
As well as Winfrey did, there were too many questions that were simply not asked.
If Armstrong wants his third comeback, he needs to dish for real. Not on America’s couch, but to USADA, to the World Anti-Doping Agency, to the feds. Armstrong hinted that Oprah was a first step. The next call needs to be Travis Tygart.
The riveting five-answer affirmation to open the interview — yes, yes, yes, yes and yes – was compelling. It left everyone wanting more. Much more.