A woman watches on her computer as Oprah Winfrey questions cyclist Lance… (Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images )
Lance Armstrong calmly told Oprah Winfrey in a highly anticipated taped television interview Thursday night that he took a variety of performance-enhancing drugs while winning a record seven Tour de France titles, but that in his mind at the time, he didn’t consider it cheating.
At the start of a stunning question-and-answer exchange, the disgraced rider responded to a series of yes-or-no questions, answering affirmatively when asked whether he had taken specific drugs during a period when he was one of the most celebrated athletes in the world.
“The definition of cheating is to gain an advantage on a foe," Armstrong later said, saying that the use of performance-enhancing drugs was part the culture of top-level cycling. “I viewed it as a level playing field.”
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“But you’re Lance Armstrong,” Winfrey said.
“I know, but hindsight is 20/20,” he said. “I didn’t know what I had.”
People “have every right to feel betrayed. It’s my fault. I will spend the rest of my life trying to earn back their trust.”
Armstrong, during the first half of a program that will be continued Friday night, acknowledged that he had been a bully to those who had accused him of cheating in the past, while at the same time claiming that he never forced other riders to use drugs or face being kicked off his team.
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He said he regretted not cooperating with the United States Anti-Doping Agency when it was investigating him, but said the agency’s extensive characterization that Armstrong conducted “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen” was largely overstated.
The result of that investigation left him stripped of his Tour de France titles and banned from elite competition for the rest of his life.
Asked why he was coming forward after more than a decade of fierce denials of drug use, which included taking legal action against his accusers, Armstrong said, “I don’t know if I have a great answer for that.
“This is too late probably for most people, and that’s my fault.... I view the situation as one big lie I’ve repeated a lot of times.”
The 90-minute broadcast will be followed Friday with a second part on the Oprah Winfrey Network on Friday, the second installment of a 2 1/2-hour interview taped on Monday.
Armstrong opened the interview by saying “yes” to taking the banned energy boosting substance EPO, testosterone, HGH, cortisone and employing blood-doping practices and transfusions.
He said he started using in the “EPO generation” of the mid-1990s.
And he said that without using the performance-enhancing drugs, he would not have been able to win the seven Tour de France titles.
He also expressed regret at how he had “bullied” those who painted his success as fraudulent.
He sued his former masseuse, Emma O’Reilly, after she had revealed that he had wrongly backdated a prescription for banned cortisone after he tested positive for it in 1999.
“She’s one of those people I have to apologize to,” Armstrong said. “She got run over, got bullied. We sued so many people. I have reached out to her to make amends.”
Winfrey asked Armstrong why he has sued people when he knew they were telling the truth.
“It’s a major flaw,” he said. “A guy who wanted to control every outcome. To never forgive me, I understand that. I have started that process to speak to those people directly.”
Armstrong said he has reached out by telephone to Betsy Andreu, who said she and her husband Frankie, a former Armstrong teammate, first heard Armstrong admit to using testosterone and other performance-enhancing substances in a hospital room in 1996. They say he pressured Frankie Andreu to leave the U.S. Postal Service team after the 2000 Tour de France and negatively affected his career.
But Armstrong would not answer if the Andreus were telling the truth about what they say they had heard.
“I’m not going to take that one on,” Armstrong said. “I’m going to put that one down.”
Asked if his relationship with the Andreus is good, Armstrong said strongly, “No. They’ve been hurt too badly. A 40-minute conversation is not enough.”
"You called her crazy," Winfrey said.
“I did,” Armstrong said.
“This was a guy who used to be my friend, who decimated me," Andreu told CNN's Anderson Cooper on Thursday night. "He could have come clean. He owed it to me. He owes it to the sport that he destroyed."
Asked by Winfrey whether he was a bully, Armstrong said, “Yeah, yeah I am ... If I didn’t like what people said, I tried to control that.”