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Lance Armstrong tells Oprah: Lifetime ban is ‘death penalty;’ he hopes to compete again

George Burns | Reuters
George Burns | Reuters
Cyclist Lance Armstrong is interviewed by Oprah Winfrey in Austin, Texas, in this Jan. 14, handout photo courtesy of Harpo Studios. Armstrong finally admitted to using performance enhancing drugs during his cycling career on January 17, 2013, describing himself as a "bully" and a "deeply flawed character" in an interview with talk show host Winfrey.
By Julian Linden, Reuters

NEW YORK — Disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong says he received the sporting equivalent of the “death penalty” for using performance-enhancing drugs and lying about it, but he hopes his lifetime ban will one day be overturned so that he can compete again.

In the second and final part of a televised interview with U.S. talk show host Oprah Winfrey broadcast on Friday, Armstrong conceded he deserved to be punished for years of doping that helped him win a record seven Tour de France titles.

But Armstrong said the penalty he was given by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) was much harsher than the sanctions dished out to other self-confessed cheats, who were given lesser sentences for testifying against him.

“I am not saying that’s unfair, I’m saying it is different,” he said. “I deserve to be punished but I am not sure I deserve the death penalty.”

The 41-year-old said he had no ambitions to return to professional cycling but wanted to be able to compete in sanctioned events like the Chicago marathon.

“With this penalty, this punishment, I made my bed,” he said. “Would I love to run the Chicago marathon when I am 50? I would love to do that but I can’t.”

Struggling at times to control his emotions, Armstrong admitted he was ashamed of what he had done and that he felt remorse.

He was closest to tears recalling the moment he told his children that the accusations against him were true.

“I saw my son (Luke) defending me and saying, ‘That’s not true’ … that’s when I knew I had to tell him. He never asked me, ‘Dad is this true?’ He trusts me,” Armstrong said.

“I said, ‘Listen, there’s been a lot questions about your dad, did I dope and did not dope? … I want you to know that it is true’.

“I told Luke, ‘Don’t defend me anymore … if anyone says anything to you do not defend, just say, hey my dad said he was sorry.’”

Already banned for life and stripped of all his race wins, including his seven Tour de France wins, Armstrong said he lost about $75 million when his sponsors deserted him last year after the USADA released its damning report on him.

But the 41-year-old Texan said the lowest moment came when he had to quit the Livestrong cancer foundation he started.

“That was most humbling moment,” he said.

“(I was asked) to step down as chairman. A couple of weeks later the next call came — I was asked to step aside. That was the lowest.”

While Armstrong’s confession that he used performance-enhancing drugs during his cycling career was praised in some quarters, critics say his interview with Winfrey left many important questions unanswered.

Armstrong evaded many of the questions asked by Winfrey and was heavily criticized for showing little contrition, but those who know him said that was typical of his character.

“He’s never been one to be super apologetic,” his former teammate, Tyler Hamilton, told CNN on Friday.

“I don’t ever think he apologized back in the day when we were teammates for a whole lot of anything, really.

“He doesn’t show a lot of emotion. Last night I did see — for Lance Armstrong — quite a bit of emotion … by his standards.”

Hamilton was one of the riders who helped bring down Armstrong, providing sworn evidence to the USADA that Armstrong used banned substances.

Hamilton also confessed to cheating and was subsequently stripped of the gold medal he won at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

He said he felt vindicated by Armstrong’s admission.

“It’s nice to hear him finally own up to some of his faults,” he said.

But Hamilton said Armstrong had not been completely honest and needed to reveal more, a sentiment that was echoed across the sporting world.

World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) chief John Fahey said Armstrong had lied in the interview when he said he stopped doping after 2005 when he won his seventh Tour de France.

Armstrong retired after the race before making a comeback in 2009 but said he raced clean in his return.

“The evidence from USADA is that Armstrong’s blood tests show variations in his blood that show with absolute certainty he was doping after 2005,” Fahey told London’s Daily Telegraph on Friday.

“Believe USADA or believe Armstrong? I know who to believe.”

Another British newspaper, the Sunday Times, said it would vigorously pursue a 1 million pounds ($1.6 million) legal action against Armstrong following his admission.

The Sunday Times paid Armstrong in 2006 to settle a legal case after it had questioned what was behind his Tour de France wins in an article published in 2004.

The newspaper, part of Rupert Murdoch’s media business, also wants to recover interest and legal costs incurred in the case.

“We watched Lance Armstrong’s interview with interest and noted his numerous admissions regarding taking performance-enhancing drugs,” a Sunday Times spokesman said.

“The Sunday Times believes that our case for recovering the 1 million pounds he obtained from us by fraud is now even stronger. We will be pursuing that case vigorously.”

A lawyer for SCA Promotions, a Dallas-based insurance company, said it would take legal action against Armstrong unless he repaid them more than $12 million they gave him for his Tour de France wins.

Tillotson said the company would make a decision on the lawsuit after watching Friday’s second and final part of the interview.

“No one should underestimate the resolve of SCA,” Jeff Tillotson told Reuters.

“If it doesn’t get back its money, SCA will sue Mr. Armstrong for the refund of that money, and it will be soon.”

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), which announced on Thursday that it had stripped Armstrong of the bronze medal he won at the Sydney 2000 Games, said Armstrong had done nothing to redeem himself in the first part of the interview.

“If Lance Armstrong believes he can win credibility with this interview then it is too little, too late,” IOC Vice-President Thomas Bach told Reuters.

“There are no new facts or evidence related to the USADA (U.S. Anti-Doping Agency) report in the entire interview. It was clearly a well-orchestrated interview which, however, did provide no new facts.”


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