Oprah & Lance Part I: 4 General Thoughts, 3 Unanswered Questions And 1 Place Where Oprah Came Up Short

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By Robert Johnson
January 18, 2013

Editor’s note: Comments, thoughts or insight? Rojo wants to hear it as he has a lot of questions after watching the interview. Please email him.

4 General Thoughts

1.Oprah was WAY better than I thought and hoped.

This was a far cry from the embarrassing Marion Jones interview. I must admit going in I was afraid the interview was going to end up being something along the lines of what US 800-meter Olympian Nick Symmonds tweeted as the interview was just getting started:

“Lance Armstrong is going to feel better after appearing on Oprah. She’s going to give him performance-enhancing hugs.”

In the end, it was nothing close.

Oprah came prepared and her producers did a great job of splicing up the interview with great background facts and clips to put things in perspective and it was great that they showed video clips and made Lance respond to them. For example, they showed Lance’s victory speech at his last TdF win where he said along the the lines, “To everyone that is a cynic and doesn’t believe in the great sport of cycling, ‘Shame on you,'” and then made him respond to it.

Oprah also did a good job of asking open-ended questions. One key thing I learned from my 10 years coaching at Cornell from my ex-boss Nathan Taylor – the Cornell head coach, who is a genius when it comes to reading people – is that most people are terrible at asking open-ended questions when discussing difficult topics. Most people try to ask a question that leads someone to a certain answer or at least makes it easy to answer a certain way. Oprah didn’t let Lance off easily like that. For example, when he admitted he was a bully she followed up with, “Tell  me how you were a bully.” I guess that’s not technically a question, but she just as well could have said, “Can you tell me how you were a bully?”

To her credit, Oprah did let the human side of Lance, if there is one, come out. She wasn’t there to attack but rather let him tell his side of the story while she tried to hold him accountable.

2. It was incredibly powerful when Lance was asked if he was afraid that he’d ever test positive and he replied with no hesitation, “No.”

Back when Lance was still claiming he was clean, his go-to argument and the go-to argument of many alleged dopers, including Roger Clemens, to this day is, “I’ve never tested positive.” Lance used to say he was the most tested athlete in human history and had passed hundreds of tests. That whole line of defense was discarded with one word in the interview.

After saying “No,” Lance then almost acted like Oprah was crazy for even asking that. He went on to explain that before the biological passport and more common out-of-competition drug tests, it was basically impossible to get caught.

3. Not sure if many people caught this or agree, but the best part of the interview for me was when Oprah refused to let Lance use his cancer fight as to an excuse as to why he doped.

Lance was saying that he learned to win at all costs and with a no-holds-barred attitude from fighting cancer. He would do anything to beat cancer and when he came back from that he said he had that same attitude in cycling. He said before cancer while he was competitive he wasn’t all that competitive or ruthless.

Oprah cut him off and made him admit that he doped both before and after cancer.

4. There were quite a few times where it was hard not think, “Wow, Lance is a total pscyho.”

The most bizarre moment came when Lance made a point of telling Oprah how when he recently called Betsy Andreu to apologize, he made sure to clear up one thing with her – that he didn’t call her “fat.” Not sure what Lance was trying to accomplish by going out of his way to let the world know he didn’t call the wife of a teammate a “crazy fat bitch” versus simply a “crazy bitch.”

Perhaps he thought it would add humor but it fell way flat.

Along those lines, it seemed very odd that there were several times when Lance, who himself has proven to be a pathological liar, would pick up on a technicality in a statement that he thought was untrue and then make a big deal of it.

Lance even admitted that this is part of his personality (so maybe even he realizes it’s bizarre?), as he said if someone says 10 things and 8 are true, he’ll go hard as hell after the two that aren’t.

For example, after Oprah opened the interview with a bunch of yes or no questions about Lance and doping, Lance then took offense when Oprah quoted USADA as saying he was  part of the most sophisticated doping program in professional sports history.

Lance very much disagreed with that statement and asked if the East German doping regime of the 1970s/’80s was more sophisticated.

My response: “Lance, what are you trying to gain here? That’s a horrible way to open if your goal is to come across as contrite, but if we are going to argue technicalities, the Olympic movement was still technically an amateur sports movement in the 1970s.”

There was another point in the interview when Lance went out of his way to correct Oprah and tell her he said he didn’t do “a lot” of EPO.

You take EPO for a decade and it’s not a lot?

Lance seemingly was trying to make the argument that it was a level playing field and everyone was cheating, although this ignores the fact that many have pointed out that Lance apparently has a blood profile that would benefit more from doping than most.

Three Unanswered Questions

1. Why did Lance go out of his way to say he didn’t cheat in his comeback?

I guess one answer might be that he actually didn’t cheat, but many people who understand the biological passport and have looked at Lance’s biological passport say he most definitely did. Sports Illustrated’s David Epstein tweeted last night that one independent scientist looked at Lance’s biological passport and said Lance’s blood values during his comeback were the “definition” of a classic passport problem. USADA agreed, as its report read:

“(a) cluster of five Armstrong samples during the 2009 Tour de France and his two samples during the 2010 Tour de France contained an unusually low percentage of reticulocytes.”

“When Prof. Gore compared the suppressed reticulocyte percentage in Armstrong’s 2009 and 2010 Tour de France samples to the reticulocyte percentage in his other samples, Prof. Gore concluded that the approximate likelihood of Armstrong’s seven suppressed reticulocyte values during the 2009 and 2010 Tours de France occurring naturally was less than one in a million.”

Lance took great offense to that allegation.

Assuming he did cheat, which I am doing as this picture looks really really daming, then I have two big thoughts.

i) My god this guy is arrogant and

ii) Why is he going out of his way to try to do this? Is he possibly arrogant enough to think by denying cheating during his comeback he could get his drug suspension back-dated to 2005 and if his doping suspension was reduced from a lifetime ban to an 8-year ban that he’d be eligible to compete now?

2) Why did Lance go out his way to deny that he was the ringleader of doping on his teams and that he forced/threatened people to dope?

It seemed weird to me that Lance went out of his way to claim he didn’t force people on the team to dope when people have said he did and it’s clear people would need to dope to have any valuable role on the team.

David Epstein has tweeted that being the mastermind has big implications for Floyd Landis‘ federal whistle-blower lawsuit. Can a lawyer confirm this?

I am not a lawyer, so I don’t know how that actually works (if you are and do know, please email me). I do know that Landis doesn’t want to be considered the mastermind or he can’t win any money from the suit.

3) Why did Lance refuse to say whether or not the story about Betsy Andreu overhearing him telling doctors he used PEDs was true or not?

It was seemingly clear that Lance must have received legal advice not to talk about this.

I’m wondering if it’s because he specifically denied that story under oath before reaching a settlement with SCA Promotions for millions of dollars. I’m assuming if he admitted it, it’s possible that his agreement with SCA Promotions could be thrown out as having been originated under false pretenses even though the agreement stated, “No party can challenge, appeal or attempt to set aside the arbitration award.”

For a great article on this, please read Dallas lawyer may be first to sue Lance Armstrong after Oprah interview. SCA’s lawyer had this great line after watching the interview, “Apologies are nice, but when Mr. Armstrong sends us his apologies, he needs to include a check giving us back the $12 million.”

Either that or maybe he’s trying to protect the doctors who denied it?

Actually, I just thought of another explanation that makes more sense – to protect his agent Bill Stapleton. Stapleton also said under oath that the story was false. By not talking about this, maybe Lance thinks he can spare Stapleton’s career from being implicated in the his doping. So down the road if Lance is bankrupt or in need of cash, his old friend who made millions off of him can help him out.

Update at 9:37 am. I just slept on this and it seems crystal clear to me that Armstrong is not admitting to Andreu’s story to save Stapleton’s ass. Think about it. If Lance says Andreu’s story is true, Stapleton’s career is over – or at least it should be. What company would ever trust an a agent who knowingly lets a doped client sign all these endorsement deals and defraud the government (as compared to those who don’t want to know)? More importantly, Stapleton would be a exposed as a lawyer who allowed it to happen and as a lawyer who lied under oath. I’m not 100% sure of the legal ramifications but it seems like it would lead to a sanction if not disbarment as I doubt a statue of limitations would apply to the disbarment proceedings (lawyers, please email me if you know) .

This Andreu ‘No comment’ by Lance  just shows Lance is trying to have his cake and eat it too and his whole appearance on Oprah is somewhat fraudulent. Lance is still trying to save his ass and do what benefits him. It was all about money and fame and it’s still all about money and fame. I can somewhat appreciate not throwing the people who backed you all these years under the bus but then you shouldn’t go on national television and try to repair your image – just quietly remove yourself from the public spotlight like Mark McGwire.

You can’t on the one hand say you gave Betsy a difficult 40 minute on apology if you still won’t admit what she said is true.

Implicitly Lance wants us to accept the following Q&A (which didn’t actually happen like this):

LA: “I’m sorry what I did to Betsy. She was not a crazy bitch liar. I was a crazy, bullly liar.”

Oprah: “So what she said then in the hospital is true?”

LA: “I don’t want to answer that because it will cost my agent his career and millions.”

Then what are you apologizing for? One other thing. If anyone out there has all the dirty on Lance, wouldn’t it be Stapleton. Of course, Lance doesn’t want to piss him off.

One Place Where Oprah Came Up Short

I swear I had a list of three shortcomings, but it’s almost 1 am and I’m losing my mind due to fatigue, so here is one:

1. Oprah should have asked Lance, “Why would you give hundreds of thousands of dollars to a group you ‘are not a fan of’?”

I thought Oprah did a really good job but came up very much short in this one instance. Lance denied to Oprah that he paid off the UCI to cover up a positive test at the 2001 Tour of Switzerland, but at the same time he added that he wasn’t a fan of the UCI.

The logical question would then be, “Well why would you give hundreds of thousands of dollars to a group you don’t like?” The logical assumption is at a minimum so they wouldn’t come after him.

To take down Lance, you had to be like Travis Tygart, who was EXTREMELY motivated to do it and would risk his whole reputation on it. A few hundred Gs would dampen the motivation for most.

Do you know the answer to some of these questions or have comments/insight? Email me.

More: Part II Analysis: 6 Thoughts About Part II of the Lance Armstrong and Oprah Winfrey Interview