Anyone expecting a tearful Lance Armstrong to gaze into the camera and beg forgiveness for a lifetime of deceit, after having given up all of the names and details of the how and why of his successes, was certain to have been disappointed by the Oprah interviews. It was classic Lance: stubbornly proud, controlling and calculating. But given who he is, a man who has spent a lifetime constructing an impenetrable protective shell around him, it represented a massive effort on his part and was a pretty good first step towards rehabilitating his public and personal lives both now lying in tatters.
Lance lost. He lost the game that USADA finally won after a protracted and bloody battle, and, as Lance said in the interview, being deeply afraid of losing has always been his driving force. This loss represents a complete change, something he has never experienced in a lifetime of winning almost every fight both big and small. He now has to come to terms with what losing, and losing big, means, and accept the fear that has landed on his doorstep. That is not going to happen overnight and certainly not in one session with Oprah.
The interview provided a fascinating insight into the mind of a professional athlete, one who had achieved the ultimate goal of turning himself into a brand. Lance’s parsing of the definition of cheating was a look into the secret life of a pro and how they can rationalize using every possible legal and illegal advantage to perform at the levels the public and sponsors expect and demand. As he swung back and forth from saying “I” and “we”, was it the man or the brand speaking? “To be honest, Oprah, we sued so many people I don’t even [know]. I’m sure we did.” “Emma O’Reilly [Armstrong’s former employee who he called an “alcoholic prostitute” after she blew the whistle on his doping] is one of these people I have to apologize to. We ran over her, we bullied her.”
He held almost everything back that could affect anyone connected to “we”, and anything of use to USADA and the varied legal actions lining up against him. Dr. Ferrari, the sponsors, money and organization behind him, the possible influence of the UCI and the Tour de France on his ability to make a mockery of the doping controls for years, his hospital bed confession, all of that, the meat everyone wanted, is still unrevealed. And will probably remain so unless he can successfully negotiate to get his life as an athlete back.
Yet, he gave a lot. He did admit to the general public that he had doped for the seven consecutive Tour victories. He admitted the backdating by his USPS team of the medical certificate that squashed the positive test that loomed over his first Tour win. That positive test would have derailed his entire mythical rise from the dead and destroyed the Tour de France forever. Lance seemed genuinely affected by the loss of Livestrong, the entity he had envisioned devoting the rest of his life to.
Lance needs a new “we” in his life. He needs to continue down the path he’s just begun, and he needs to begin making honest amends. It will take time and it will be difficult, but like many fallen famous figures, he’ll be back. He may be hated, but he should never be underestimated.