By Jen Benepe
The Twitter field was buzzing last night while Oprah was interviewing Lance Armstrong, with the most
innovative hashtag to be born, #doprah.
Some tweets still attempted to use #lancearmstrong, and #cycling but they needed have bothered: #doprah was the clear winner.
But watching the interview between Armstrong and Oprah I got the feeling that the wool was being pulled over my eyes by both of them.
Not that either party was lying, per se. But the whole story was not being revealed. For one, being a well-read reporter in cycling for well over 10 years, I knew all the moments when only part of the story was being discussed.
The first Mea Culpa section disposed of in the very first 5 minutes opened the door for a long, touchy-feely follow that skimmed the surface like a swallow over a pond.
“Did you ever take banned substances?” asked Oprah, sounding more like a lawyer in a criminal case than an interviewer.
“Yes,” answered Armstrong
“Did you use EPO?”
“Did you blood dope?”
“Did you use other banned substances including Human Growth Hormone, [and she lists a number of others, including testosterone.]
“Was it possible to win the Tour de France without doping?”
“No,” came the most honest answer of the entire interview.
And for the remaining hour and a half we watched Armstrong take the fall for an entire industry, for the Tour de France which makes millions of dollars every year from riders who are expected to ride more than 120 miles a day in searing heat and rainstorms, up and down mountains, more than five hours every day for 21 days. And that’s just the Tour de France. Then there’s the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de Suisse, the Vuelta a Espana, plus the hundreds of one and two day races that professional riders are supposed to do well in every year.
You almost have to ask yourself, why did Armstrong pick Oprah? First of all her audience is composed mostly of women of a certain age, and let’s face it, Armstrong is quite a handsome guy. Those muscles! The spandex! The square jaw and Texan accent! The machismo! If he were running for Congress right now, he might well have swayed 51 percent of the vote.
Note: did we hear very much about his ex-wife or current girlfriend last night? Nope. I think you get the picture.
Then, there’s the idea that Oprah has not had her head crammed into cycling news for the last decade, putting her at a disadvantage when it comes to the details.
This worked for and against the perception of Armstrong. For example, the most annoying perhaps was the discussion about Floyd Landis, Armstrong’s previous teammate who won, then lost the Tour de France in 2006
because he tested positive for banned substances.
Landis is the one who initially blew the whistle on Armstrong, who by the way, had never done the same injustice against Landis. All this was acknowledged on Oprah last night, but the details about Landis, who appears to have a history of being emotionally and socially regressive, a trait that carries into his dealings with bike teams, was that he attempted to blackmail Armstrong if he did not admit him on the team for the Tour of California.
Oprah was able to elicit from Armstrong that he owes an apology to the U.S. Postal Team’s previous soigneur, Emma O’Reilly. But she neglected to mention that O’Reilly was fired from the team because she was keeping a diary of extramarital affairs being carried on by team directors and members, according to her own brother who told me this in person.
Later she was paid thousands of dollars by David Walsh to make assignations against Armstrong for his book, “From Lance to Landis.”
Then there was the Betsey Andreu mea culpa. “Did you call Betsey?” asked Oprah. “Yes, we had an hour long phone conversation,” said Armstrong.
Tapes were played of Betsey Andreu outing Armstrong’s conversation with his doctor about the number of banned substances he had taken. But no where in the outing was it said why Frankie Andreu had said nothing. Was it possibly because Frankie had to take more drugs than Armstrong, because as a domestique that was his role, in case he got tested, as rumor alleged?
And had Frankie had a brush with cancer, or something worse, like being unable to perform his marital duties? Whatever the inside story was, we never heard it.
Again, none of these details surfaced in last night’s perfection in whitewash, but in some ways, I wish it had. Of course it is impossible to delve into all the intrigue that surrounds Armstrong, but on the other hand, should the man really take the fall for an entire professional sport that had lost it’s way?
There is no doubt that there were many others taking performance enhancing drugs during that time. The Italians were legendary in their use, as well apparently as the Germans, which Armstrong touched on briefly. But could he not at least evince that he knew by looking at the field that he was surrounded by drug takers? Why was this not mentioned?
Armstrong realized perfection in repeating over and over again for the American public, a pained expression on his face that he knows “I am a deeply flawed man.”
But what happened to the deeply flawed man who was riding 12 hours in the freezing rain and taking drugs, while his competitors were taking drugs and sitting in the bar drinking? Armstrong’s manic attention to training and detail made him a champion in a playing field that for all intents and purposes, was level. Should all of that accomplishment be wiped out because others had motive to bring him down? Or because he was ostensibly the best, and shouldn’t have done it?
That’s the message we get, but we all know that without the drugs, he never would have reached the status that he did. Sifting among the lack of details about how much and by whom there was cheating does not help the public at all.
As far as we know, 40, 30, 50 or 90 percent of the peloton is taking performance enhancers at any time. How will we ever know, even if Armstrong has come clean, unless the details are revealed?
The only other succulent details gleaned from this interview was that Armstrong did not cheat at the Tour de Suisse, as was claimed by a number of journalist and naysayers. He also stopped dopping in 2005, and when he rode the Tours in 2009 and 2010, he was clean. We also learned that when he donated money to the UCI, it was not in exchange for favors, and a cover up.
But most importantly, we learned that though Armstrong is now clean, we have no idea if every player on the football, baseball and basketball court are clean. Absolutely no idea. And, no one seems to care.