Having now watched both parts of Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Lance Armstrong (the second part was much less interesting than the first), here are my thoughts as to what we learned and – perhaps more importantly – what happens next.
We all knew this interview was going to be less about truth and reconciliation and more about redemption and rehabilitation, and so it turned out. Armstrong came to present himself as contrite and humble. An ordinary room, plain chairs, simple smart-casual attire, no yellow jerseys hanging on a wall. Just an ordinary Joe having an ordinary chat. With Oprah Winfrey. And millions watching worldwide. Ordinary.
Was he successful? Partially. His up-front confession was well played but there were few meaningful revelations after that. At times he struggled under even a mild grilling. Oprah asked the right questions but there was no full-court press. He would have been dissected on 60 Minutes – which is why he chose Oprah.
Overall, it struck me that the interview was a lot like many of Armstrong’s seven Tour ‘wins’. Bam! A big statement in the prologue. Bam! Punchy attacks at selective moments where there was an advantage to gain: “I’m not sure that I deserve a death penalty.” And then sitting back and absorbing any other challenges, which were fairly limited.
How did he do?
However, I’m not sure whether Lance finished this particular race in yellow or carrying the lanterne rouge. For a man who was a consummate poker player on the bike, he was far less so off it, with his body language betraying him at moments of stress.
I looked for remorse, but for me he came off as cold, calculating and anything but sorry. Too many little smirks which betrayed his contempt for some of the other players in the drama. Too many carefully crafted statements which said no more than they were designed to say: “people I need to apologise to” (but have not done so and may never do so) and “I don’t like that guy” (classic dissociation strategy, referring to his former self in the third person). And every now and then his phraseology was revealing: as the truth started to come out, he described it as “the story was getting out of control”.
There were also too many inconsistencies too. He praised the biological passport while denying the 2009 findings which were so clearly positive that there was less than a one in a million chance he was riding clean. And although he repeatedly claimed a gradual acceptance that the whole house of cards was coming down, his litigious threats and that tweet suggest the opposite.
Back in Austin and just layin’ around… mob.li/_r4zAz
— Lance Armstrong (@lancearmstrong) November 10, 2012
Most disappointing was the lack of specifics. Armstrong didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know from Emma O’Reilly, Betsy Andreu, Floyd, Tyler and USADA. There was some of the ‘what’, but no real ‘who’ or ‘how’. The tip of the iceberg – or maybe the tip of the needle? Will he ever testify properly?
Armstrong and his advisors had a clear picture of the man they wanted to portray, but revealed the man he really is. Lance won’t be winning any Oscars for a performance which was ultimately high on self-pity.
As I said yesterday, we can be sure this is just the opening gambit in a long chess game for Armstrong as he seeks redemption and rehabilitation. But what comes next? He said he will be the first through the door if there is a truth-and-reconciliation process, but then he also promised a comprehensive and transparent testing programme prior to his 2009 comeback, which never happened. Will he ever name names and provide sworn testimony?
There is undoubtedly a plan, but what? More media interviews? Another book? A lucrative speaking tour? Political ambitions? Don’t be surprised if we see a drip-feed of new revelations over the coming months, just to keep media interest high. Only one thing is for sure: we have not seen the last of Lance Armstrong.
Oprah and Lance Armstrong