Lance Armstrong has confessed to using performance-enhancing drugs to win seven Tour de France titles during an interview with US talk show host Oprah Winfrey, reversing more than a decade of denial.
“Yes,” Armstrong said when Winfrey asked if he used a series of drugs to help his record run.
“I made my decisions. They are my mistake.”
In an interview taped on Monday and aired on Thursday, Armstrong said he could not have won the Tour de France without the drugs, and gave a small smile.
When asked if he ever felt that what he was doing was wrong, Armstrong responded: “No, and that’s scary.”
“There are people that supported me, believed in me … and they have every right to feel betrayed. I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to earn back trust and apologising to people.”
Armstrong was stripped of all his titles in the wake of a US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) report last October and banned for life from competing in triathlons and other sanctioned events.
He also lost nearly all his sponsors and left the Livestrong cancer charity he had founded in 1997.
A cancer survivor who inspired millions with what had seemed like a fairytale career, Armstrong said he did not believe he could have achieved what he did without breaking the rules due to the culture of drugs in cycling.
“Not in that generation. I didn’t invent the culture, but I didn’t try to stop the culture,” he said.
“It’s hard to talk about the culture. I don’t want to accuse anyone else. I’m here to acknowledge my mistakes.”
US sports writer Dave Zirin said the cycling world will likely be unsatisfied with Armstrong’s admission, which stopped short of addressing how he facilitated the doping among the other members of the US team.
“He very much wanted to be seen as just another run of the mill performance-enhancing user in the world of sports and not as someone who, as the United States Anti-Doping Agency report describes, facilitated with an iron fist the use of doping throughout his incredibly successful Tour de France team,” Zirin told Al Jazeera.
‘Out of the woods’
Armstrong’s admission came just months after USADA released a detailed report describing him as the ringmaster of the “most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen”.
While he confessed to cheating and bullying, he denied several of the other accusations that have been made against him.
He rejected suggestions he failed a doping test at the 2001 Tour Of Switzerland then paid off the International Cycling Union (UCI) and doping officials to cover up the result.
“That story isn’t true. There was no positive test. No paying off of the lab. The UCI did not make that go away. I’m no fan of the UCI,” he said.
Armstrong said he thought he had got away with it when he retired for good in 2011 but his downfall was triggered by a two-year federal investigation that was dropped but led to the USADA probe.
“I thought I was out of the woods,” he said.
“I just assumed the stories would continue for a long time. We’re sitting here because there was a two-year federal criminal investigation.”
On Thursday, hours before the interview went to air, the International Olympic Committee stripped him of the bronze medal he won at the 2000 Games.
As a result of his confession, the 41-year-old Texan now faces the prospect of various legal challenges and orders to repay some of the millions of dollars he earned from his success.
Writer Dave Zirin criticised the interview saying Armstrong “handpicked” Winfrey over more serious journalists, including those covering the cycling tour.
“Oprah gets chosen for a reason, because Lance Armstrong is clearly not a sympathetic figure so it’s almost like outsourcing the sympathy to the viewer, which should not be the role of the media in this case,” Zirin told Al Jazeera.