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In a series of yes-or-no questions in the first five minutes of the report, the retired professional cyclist admitted to taking banned substances.
He told Winfrey that yes, he used banned substances — EPO, testosterone and human growth hormone — as well as blood doping or blood transfusion to enhance his performance.
Armstrong also admitted that he used those methods in all seven of his Tour de France victories. Asked if he thought it was “humanly possible” to win seven times without doping, Armstrong replied: “Not in my opinion.”
Though Winfrey and Armstrong decided ahead of time there would be no topics off limits, he repeatedly refused to speak about other cyclists’ use of performance-enhancing drugs, other than to say it was widespread during his time in the sport.
Armstrong said that he started using banned substances in the mid-1990s. Asked why he decided to admit to it now, he replied: “I don’t know that I have a great answer. I will start my answer by saying 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 said no and I moved off it.”
However, Armstrong maintained that his drug use was part of a larger “culture” within cycling and said he was not doing anything unavailable to other cyclists. At the time, he didn’t consider himself a cheater, because the definition of a cheater is someone who gains an advantage by using something others don’t have access to.
“I viewed it as a level playing field,” he said.
Winfrey asked if — as the leader of the U.S. Postal Service cycling team — Armstrong pressured other riders to use banned substances. Armstrong flatly denied the charge several times during the interview.
“No. I didn’t. The idea that anybody was forced or pressured or encouraged was not true,” he said.
Armstrong said his “win at all costs” mentality served him well when he was diagnosed with cancer, but it “went too far” when he turned to using banned substances.
Armstrong also admitted to being “a bully” to those who accused him of doping. Asked about lawsuits he brought against his accusers, the cyclist said: “It’s a major flaw. It’s a guy who expected to get whatever he wanted and to win every outcome.”
Some of the more uncomfortable moments came when Winfrey showed Armstrong past clips of the cyclist denying using performance-enhancing drugs. At one point, Winfrey showed him a 2005 clip of him defending Dr. Michele Ferrari, who allegedly provided Armstrong and others with drugs and later received a lifetime ban from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
“My responses on most of these things are going to be different today,” Armstrong said when asked if he would still defend Ferrari.
At another point, Winfrey showed Armstrong footage of his 2005 Tour De France victory speech. “The last thing I’ll say to the people who don’t believe in cycling, the cynics and the skeptics: I’m sorry for you. I’m sorry that you can’t dream big,” he said in the speech. “I’m sorry you don’t believe in miracles. … This is a hard sporting event and hard work wins it.”
Winfrey asked if the speech was Armstrong rebuking his critics. Armstrong said it wasn’t a rebuke, but admitted the speech now embarrassed him and he considered it “lame.”
Winfrey also asked about Emma O’Reilly, Armstrong’s former masseuse, whom he sued and once insinuated was “a whore” under his breath because she said publicly a doctor backordered a prescription of cortisone for him.
“I was on the attack,” Armstrong said. “Territory being threatened; team being threatened — I’m on the attack.”
At multiple points, Armstrong emphasized he was taking responsibility for his actions, but he said he knew his public penance might not win over everyone. “There are people that will hear this and will never forgive me. I understand that,” he said.
Part one of Armstrong’s sit-down with Winfrey aired on OWN and streamed online Thursday. Part two airs and streams online 9 p.m. ET Friday.
A day before the interview aired, Armstrong was stripped of the bronze medal he won at the 2000 Sydney Games. The move followed last year’s revocation of his seven Tour de France titles.
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