Last night marked the arrival of the first half of the highly anticipated interview between Oprah Winfrey and Lance Armstrong. Throughout the week, Oprah had promised a momentous occasion, and when the time came, she delivered: Armstrong admitted to doping for the bulk of his cycling career. It was no secret that Armstrong would acknowledge years of deception and banned substance use. So what, then, made the interview worthwhile if we already knew the ending? The details. Armstrong confirmed - and in some cases, denied – certain elements of the story that contribute to a more cohesive narrative. His personal ambitions, his team, his comeback in 2009 – all of it is gradually, painfully coming to light. Here’s what we learned:
1. “I made my decisions. They are my mistakes. And I’m sitting here today to acknowledge that and say I’m sorry for it.”
It may be hard to believe, coming from someone who lied and thwarted opposition systematically for his entire career, but Armstrong’s contrition seems reasonably genuine. And more importantly, he accepted full, individual responsibility. Throughout the interview, he refused to name any names or speak ill of anyone other than himself. “Admirable” may be a strong word to use in this case, but it’s not wholly inaccurate.
2. “It was definitely professional, and definitely smart if you can call it that, but it was very conservative, very risk averse.”
The US Anti-Doping Agency claimed that Armstrong and the US Postal Service team ran “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program” in sports. Armstrong accepted that characterization to some extent, but wanted to dispel the notion that this was some foolhardy gang of outlaws.
3. “The idea that anybody was forced, or pressured, or encouraged, is not true.”
Former members of Armstrong’s team have described a climate of intimidation and coercion when it came to doping. Armstrong, though, said this was not the case. He claimed that nobody on the Postal Service team was ever verbally encouraged to use banned substances against their will.
4. “Yeah, I was a bully.”
As allegations of doping poured in throughout the years, Armstrong often went on the offensive to counter the accusations. He sued numerous parties that came forward with fresh information, including his former masseuse, Emma O’Reilly. In the interview, he told Oprah that his harsh, vindictive treatment of friends and colleagues was inexcusable.
5. “The last time I crossed the line, that line, was in 2005.”
Armstrong won his final Tour de France in 2005 and subsequently retired. He returned to the sport, however, in 2009, and placed third at the race; the next year he placed 23rd. But there was no doping following his first retirement, he claimed. When he returned for his comeback in ‘09, he was totally clean.
6. “I called you crazy, I called you a b***h, I called you all these things, but I never called you fat.”
In 2006, Betsy Andreu, the wife of Armstrong’s former teammate Frankie, testified that Armstrong had told his doctors in 1996 that he used performance-enhancing drugs. Armstrong denied the allegation and lashed out against her; one of his representatives went so far as to leave the Andreus a threatening voicemail. So when he and Betsy spoke on the phone recently to make amends, he made sure to clarify his insults.
Part 2 of the Oprah’s interview with Lance Armstrong airs tonight at 9 pm ET.