Oprah and Lance Armstrong: Tim’s final thoughts

Wish 1: Hey you on the couch - yeah you! MAN UP!

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.

Overall impression

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.

Lance tweetMost 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.

Now what?

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

Tim’s initial thoughts

Kitty’s thoughts

Oprah and Lance Armstrong: Kitty’s thoughts

Here are my thoughts on Lance and Oprah – written after the first part of the interview but before the second.

Lance Evening Standard

What did we learn?

Lance Armstrong took performance-enhancing drugs from the early days of his cycling career to the day of his first retirement. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Lance Armstrong did not dope when he made his comeback in 2009 because it wasn’t as easy, there is more sophisticated testing and the biological passport was doing a brilliant job at ensuring it was impossible to hide. Except the biological passport that said his blood levels had only a one in a million chance of happening naturally was wrong. So the biological passport works until it doesn’t.

Dr Ferrari is a good man, a kind man, a man who never ever gave Lance Armstrong doping advice, doping programmes, doping products. In fact, Dr Ferrari is Italian so probably doesn’t even know the word doping.

Lance Armstrong called Betsy Andreu crazy. He called her crazy but he never called her fat! Because that’s actually the worst thing you can do to a woman. Say she’s fat. Ruining her husband’s career, using smear tactics to discredit her, pursuing a vendetta for years and years and years was just, you know, something that he did. But he didn’t call her fat.

Lance Armstrong gladly gives money to organisations he isn’t a fan of because he had money and that organisation, the UCI, did not and they asked him for some of his. So shrug and throw them US$125,000. Which for millionaires is the equivalent of everyday Joes putting spare change in a charity box.

Lance Armstrong wasn’t going to talk about other people because he could only speak for himself. Unless that person – and he isn’t going to call them a liar – is not telling the truth. Then he’ll talk about them and say, “I’m not going to call anyone a liar, but that’s untrue. Categorically untrue.” So that means they’re lying, right?

It’s not that easy to influence the Department of Justice to drop an investigation against you. Lance Armstrong wasn’t able to do that. But he did know that it “isn’t that easy”. Which means it’s not impossible.

Lance Armstrong is a flawed character. Could have been the trailer park upbringing. Could have been watching his single mom struggle …

Need I go on?

Oprah and Lance Armstrong

Tim’s thoughts

Oprah and Lance Armstrong: Tim’s initial thoughts

Oprah Winfrey Lance Armstrong interviewApparently there was a cycling-related TV interview on last night – who knew? – and judging from my Twitter feed this morning it certainly fuelled vigorous debate on both sides of the Atlantic.

Anyhow, I’ve been reviewing the first part of Oprah’s Lance Armstrong interview this morning. Here’s my gut-reaction analysis.

1. A ‘tell-some’ interview

This was never going to be a full-on tell-all confessional but equally Armstrong had to say something. So we got a ‘tell-some’ affair – more than many expected, not as much as hoped for. Did we find out anything new? Not really, although it was nice to have the existence – but not the identity – of ‘Motoman’ confirmed.

2. Admission does not equal apology

Armstrong admitted a fair amount, but when it came to apologies he was evasive, barely acknowledging whistle-blower Emma O’Reilly. Betsy Andreu? He merely said he never called her fat. Her immediate reaction on CNN says it all. Hell hath no fury …

3. Nice try, Oprah

Oprah had done her homework, and her use of direct yes/no questions up front to tease out the key admission that Armstrong used EPO and blood doping during his seven Tour wins was particularly effective. Did she ask all the right questions? Pretty much. But did she ask all the right follow-up questions? No. Several times she backed Lance on to the ropes and didn’t press home the advantage. Ultimately this wasn’t Sixty Minutes or a court of law. There is a reason Armstrong has avoided both.

4. PR 101

The first 15 minutes set the agenda and dictated headlines around the world with soundbites such as “I’m a flawed character” and “I didn’t have access to anything else that nobody else did”. It was also clear the PR strategy had been well rehearsed. A line was drawn beyond which Armstrong would not go – he didn’t say anything he hadn’t planned on saying. He picked his battles too. So he didn’t attempt to discredit everyone but he did attack the testimony of Christian Vande Velde, a minor figure in the drama. Ultimately, though, people will reflect on the things he didn’t say rather than the things he did.

6. Still a control freak

Despite Armstrong’s pre-interview statements about allowing Oprah free rein, this was still a managed PR exercise. He has had three months to prepare, he chose the interviewer and he called out the UCI’s reluctance to enter into a truth-and-reconciliation process by launching one of his own, on his terms. Lance freely admits to being a control freak – nothing has changed.

7. Voices lie, bodies don’t

When pressed, particularly on issues which still fall within the statute of limitations (such as whether he doped during his comeback) or could land him with major new lawsuits, Armstrong’s body language tightened up noticeably. He often touched or covered his face, a clear indication of deception, which told its own story.

8. Targeting ‘everyman’

Most serious cycling fans saw through much of what Armstrong said (or didn’t say), but they were not the real target audience. Neither were the acolytes who still believe he is not guilty, or don’t care if he is. In both camps, opinions are entrenched. The real target here was the man on Main Street who was still on the fence. Did it work? Time will tell.

9. That’s the opening gambit – what’s the next move?

There was an element of damage control here, with Lance applying a Band-Aid to the gaping wound of his shredded reputation. However, he would not have agreed to such a candid interview if there wasn’t a greater potential long-term up-side. What’s his ultimate agenda? A truth-and-reconciliation speaking tour? A future tilt at political office? Whatever it is, we can be sure this is just the first move in Armstrong’s chess game.

Part two of Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Lance Armstrong will be shown in the UK on Discovery at 2am tomorrow (Saturday).