By Neil Browne
If a frog is placed ten feet away from a wall, how many leaps will it take to reach that wall—if it can only jump halfway each time? That was the Lance Armstrong interview on Oprah’s Next Chapter—a lot of leaps toward the truth, but never quite getting there.
The much-hyped show was to be a no-holds-barred interview in which all the questions we wanted to know were to be asked. Oprah had read David Walsh’s Seven Deadly Sins and Daniel Coyle’s The Secret Race, reviewed the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s (USADA) 1,000-page report. She had compiled over 200 questions. Shit was going to go down.
In the first two minutes, Oprah opened with a series of yes/no questions revealing what most of us knew: Armstrong had taken multiple performance-enhancing drugs throughout his career to win seven Tours de France.
Though he admitted to doping, the now-disgraced cycling icon didn’t discuss details and didn’t seem truthful on several instances. Regarding the now-famous hospital-bed admission, Armstrong preferred to not answer that question and Oprah didn’t push back. It seemed evident that a no-holds-barred interview this wasn’t. Armstrong also claims to have stopped doping in 2005 after his last Tour de France win, but his own blood values are contrary to that statement.
There are smaller examples indicating Armstrong was not being entirely truthful, like claiming to have never read The Secret Race. This is hard to believe, as by his own admission, he is someone who always controls the narrative and keeps tabs on those who aren’t on ‘Team Lance.’ Trust me, The Secret Race is loaded onto his Kindle below David Walsh’s Seven Deadly Sins.
Throughout the interview, Armstrong never seemed truly remorseful. There was no heartfelt apology. He pulled on his lip during some of the questions and took a few long pauses, weighing the effects that his answer might have. Armstrong came off clearly as someone still instinctively hiding the truth—a habit which is hard to break.
He was flippant in his answers, particularly in his apology to Betsy Andreu. He apologized to Andreu for calling her ‘crazy’ and ‘a bitch’—but said he’d never called her ‘fat.’ All this with a smirk on his face. Probably not something you want to say in front of a woman whose own battle with weight gain has made news.
There was no contrition. Instead it was more of smug Lance Armstrong trying to control the narrative.
So why didn’t Armstrong completely tell the truth or present himself in front of the United States Anti-Doping Agency? Redemption.
Oprah’s Next Chapter is the place to go for public redemption. It’s a safe zone where she won’t push for answers, but rather take a softer approach. Oprah charged hard out of the gate those first minutes, but as the interview continued, Armstrong’s continual dodging of questions left a lot of people wanting more complete answers.
Once the closing credits rolled down the screen and we were teased about tonight’s episode it was evident that this deeply flawed character is still not ready to take that final leap toward the truth. The interview, while not entirely revealing, did display a man who is not at ease with the fact he’s losing.
But history has shown us to not count Armstrong out yet. While his sponsors jumped ship and the Livestrong Foundation took his name off their wall, he can, with a bit of time and patience, work his way back into the public sympathy.
My father died from cancer. When he was diagnosed he told my mom, “If Lance can beat this so can I.”
I have not been a Lance fan for many years and when my mom told me what Dad had said, I just didn’t have the heart to correct him. Instead we watched a best-of videotape of Armstrong’s Tour victories. And while the Texan’s statements ring hollow for me personally, I wonder how the rest of the cancer community feels? Does it matter that the founder of the Livestrong Foundation was a drug cheat, a liar and a bully?
Part of me has always thanked Lance for giving my dad a sliver of hope as the cancer worked its way through his lungs, bones and brain.
In the end, however, I’m left with a bitter taste that Armstrong lied to my dad and to millions of others. I’m not sure how many Oprah shows will wash that away.