Shamed cyclist Lance Armstrong wants to return to competitive sport, but says the driving force behind his belated doping confession was the well-being of his five children.
“The biggest hope and intention was the well-being of my children,” Armstrong told talk show host Oprah Winfrey in the second segment of their televised interview that aired on Friday.
In the first installment aired on Thursday, the 41-year-old Texan admitted for the first time that an array of performance-enhancing drugs helped sweep him to a record seven Tour de France titles from 1999-2005.
Years of aggressive denials — including vitriolic attacks on those who questioned him, collapsed last year when he was stripped of his Tour titles and banned for life by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).
“The older kids need to not be living with this issue in their lives,” Armstrong said. “That isn’t fair for me to have done to them. And I did it.”
However, Armstrong said that if confession could help him regain a place in sport — in triathlons or marathons — he would jump at it.
“Hell yes, I’m a competitor,” Armstrong said, adding that he did not think he deserved the “death penalty” of a lifetime ban.
“Frankly, this may not be the most popular answer, but I think I deserve it,” he said, telling Winfrey that former teammates who implicated themselves in testifying against him received lesser punishments.
“I deserve to be punished,” Armstrong said. “I’m not sure that I deserve a death penalty.”
Thursday’s first installment of the interview left many skeptical of Armstrong’s motives and methods, doubtful that he felt real remorse.
Genuine emotion seeped through on Friday. Armstrong’s eyes reddened and his voice cracked as he described telling his 13-year-old son Luke: “Don’t defend me anymore” when his transgressions at last caught up with him.
“When this all really started, I saw my son defending me and saying: ‘That’s not true. What you’re saying about my dad is not true,’” Armstrong said.
“That’s when I knew I had to tell him,” he said. “And he’d never asked me. He’d never said, ‘Dad, is this true?’ He trusted me.”
Armstrong recalled the days in October, after USADA released the report documenting its case against him, that led to his stepping down as chairman of the Livestrong cancer charity he founded and then leaving the board entirely.
“I wouldn’t at all say forced out,” Armstrong said. “I was aware of the pressure.”
“It was the best thing for the organization, but it hurt like hell ... That was the lowest,” he said.
He discussed the financial fallout, in particular the stampede of sponsors away from him with sportswear giant Nike in the lead.
“You could look at the day or those two days or the day-and-a-half where people left,” he said. “That was a US$75 million day.”
Armstrong’s admissions could carry legal repercussions.
The US Department of Justice is close to making a decision on whether to add the government’s name to a complaint lodged in 2010 against Armstrong by former fellow US Postal Service teammate Floyd Landis.
The Postal Service, a federal agency, paid US$30 million in public money to sponsor Armstrong’s team — and may now seek to get it back.