Lance Armstrong called himself a lot of names -- liar, bully, jerk and even humanitarian -- in the first part of his taped interview with Oprah Winfrey on Thursday night.
Nevertheless, early reactions suggest that his performance was found lacking, a response the disgraced former cycling champion isn’t used to hearing.
“It kind of reminded me of Tiger Woods coming clean,” said Scott Allison, a psychology professor at the University of Richmond who has studied fallen heroes in American society. “For people like Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong, it’s so foreign to admit wrongdoing that they are out of their element. ... It can come across as robotic.”
“He’s a liar, and it never stops,” said Kathy LeMond, whose husband, Greg, won three Tour de France titles and later questioned Armstrong’s success. “I don’t think he’s sorry.”
Another wife of a former Armstrong teammate, Betsy Andreu, was more harsh. She and husband Frankie had said they were in a hospital room in 1996 when Armstrong told cancer doctors that he had used performance-enhancing drugs.
She later testified about the incident and began cooperating with a reporter working on a book about doping allegations against Armstrong. He responded by berating her and others who raised questions about his use of the drugs.
More recently, he said, he’d reached out to her to apologize.
The president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, which has said Armstrong can only be considered for a return to sanctioned competition if he provides details and names people involved in doping, didn’t buy Armstrong’s assertion that at the time he didn’t consider himself to be cheating.
“He was wrong, he cheated and there was no excuse for what he did,” John Fahey told the Associated Press. “If he was looking for redemption, he didn’t succeed in getting that. My feeling after watching the interview is that he indicated that he probably would not have gotten caught if he hadn’t returned to the sport.
“He didn’t name names, he didn’t say who supplied him, what officials were involved,” Fahey added.
From a marketing standpoint, the first half of the Winfrey interview appeared to do little to begin the public healing process.
“After reflecting on part one, I feel Lance neither did well in the interview nor achieved the goals he was likely seeking from the Oprah appearance,” marketing expert Ken Ungar, president of U/S Sports Advisors, said in an interview with the Austin American-Statesman newspaper. “From a technical perspective of a marketing professional providing advice to athlete clients on PR and crisis management, I’d note the following: He seemed to lack real empathy; he lacked contrition and didn’t address his plans for the future; and he parsed his words too finely, as if he was trying hard to ‘win’ the interview.
Travis Tygart, chief executive of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, was only slightly more impressed.
“His admission that he doped throughout his career is a small step in the right direction,” Tygart said in a statement. “But if he is sincere in his desire to correct his past mistakes, he will testify under oath about the full extent of his doping activities.”
The Livestrong Foundation, long affiliated with Armstrong, offered a statement with mixed sentiments: “We at the Livestrong Foundation are disappointed by the news that Lance Armstrong misled people during and after his cycling career, including us.
”Even in the wake of our disappointment, we also express our gratitude to Lance as a survivor for the drive, devotion and spirit he brought to serving cancer patients and the entire cancer community. Lance is no longer on the foundation’s board, but he is our founder, and we will always be grateful to him for creating and helping to build a foundation that has served millions struggling with cancer.”
Armstrong still has the second part of the interview, which is to be shown at 9 p.m. EST/PST Friday on the Oprah Winfrey Network, to make his case. It is to be streamed live at 6 p.m. PST on Oprah.com.
In it, Winfrey is expected to turn to the topics of his family, his sponsors, Livestrong and a return to competition.