“This story was so perfect for so long. It’s this myth, this perfect story, and it wasn’t true,” – Lance Armstrong on Oprah January 18th
By Laura Bonomini
Despite decades of vehement denial, the infamous cyclist and philanthropist Lance Armstrong openly admitted
to a career-long history of doping during an Oprah interview that was broadcast this past Monday. His televised confession comes in the wake of the International Cycling Union’s (UCI) decision to strip Armstrong of his record-breaking seven Tour de France titles in response to evidence uncovered in a 2012 investigation by the United States Anti-Doping Association (USADA).
The 1,000 page report put together by USADA contains testimony from nearly a dozen of Armstrong’s former teammates detailing the sophisticated and professional doping program which Armstrong allegedly spearheaded1. According to the report, Armstrong not only participated in illegal drug use himself, but actively controlled the doping culture of the entire U.S. Postal Service Pro Cycling Team. Many speculate that his televised confession is the first step towards a full confession, which may in turn reduce the period of his ban from competitive sports.
Armstrong Career & Doping Allegations
Lance Edward Armstrong, 41, began his athletic career as a triathlete at the young age of 16. In 1992 he turned to the world of professional cycling with the Motorola Cycling Team, and went on to win the World Championship and his first Tour de France title in 19932. In 1996 his career seemed to be reaching a tragic end when Armstrong was diagnosed with stage three testicular cancer. However he emerged triumphant and cancer free the following year, gaining him an idol-like status internationally. He continued on to co-found the largely successful charity Livestrong, as well as pick up several international and national titles. In 2011 Armstrong retired from competitive cycling while facing the US federal investigation on doping which would ultimately lead to the 2012 USADA report3. He was ultimately stripped from all titles won after 1998 and subsequently banned from competing in all sports following World Anti-Doping Agency codes. Even more recently, More recently his 2000 Olympic bronze was revoked.
Armstrong has faced doping allegations for most of his athletic career. In 1999 he first tested positive for corticosteroids. These results were later explained with a medical certificate for saddle sores which contained the substance. Reports from Armstrong’s masseuse at the time state that this prescription was pre-dated, and used to cover up Armstrong’s long-term drug use. Similar reports into the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs by Armstrong and the US Postal Team continued into the early 2000s, with an active investigation by the French government into the Team’s use of a product called Actovegin. Though these allegations were dropped, accusations of doping continued as several former US Postal riders stepped forward and admitted to using such drugs. In 2004, the French book L. A. Confidentiel – Les secrets de Lance Armstrong created a stir by publically accusing Armstrong of doping, relying mainly on the allegations from the same masseuse Emma O’Reilley. Controversy was re-ignited when Armstrong came out of retirement in 2008, and came to a head in the 2011 Federal investigation.
On the televised interview, Armstrong admitted to using testosterone and cortisone steroids as well as the blood-booster erythropoetein, or EPO. EPO, one of the three types of “blood doping”, involves the use of techniques and substances to increase one’s red blood cell mass which in turn allows for the body to transport more oxygen to muscles and therefore increase stamina and performance4. Because Armstrong has decided not to challenge the USADA allegations he will not face a hearing on the charges, but will face a lifetime of illegibility from all competitive athletics under the USADA’s jurisdiction.
Nevertheless, Armstrong currently faces multiple lawsuits and legal entanglements. The first lawsuit is a federal whistle-blower case, in which Armstrong and the US Postal Service cycling team are accused of defrauding the government by allowing doping on the squad when the team’s contract with the Postal Service clearly stated that any doping would constitute default of their agreement.
The case was filed under “qui tam” provision of the False Claims Act , which allows citizens not affiliated with the government to file actions on behalf of the government in situations where persons or companies may have defrauded government programs (informally called “whistleblowing”)5. The U.S. Department of Justice stands to join in on the lawsuit, making the case much more formidable. If the team is found guilty, they may be required to return all the money under the contract with the Postal Service, which amounts to over $30 million6.
Armstrong is also engaged in two other civil lawsuits. One involves the Dallas- based insurance company SCA Promotions, which insured bonuses to Armstrong after his Tour de France victories from 2000- 2004. Armstrong sued the company for over $7.5 million in 2004 after the doping allegations listed in “L.A. Confidentiel: Les Secrets de Lance Armstrong,” which caused the company to withhold payments to Armstrong. In lieu of recent circumstances the company is planning on filing a lawsuit against Armstrong for over $12 million7. Armstrong is also being sued by British newspaper The Sunday Times, which he had sued for libel in 2004 after they had published doping accusations from the same “LA Confidential” book.
Recent accounts suggest that Armstrong may be considering a confession under oath, which may reduce his ban from sports to eight or even four years. However, such a confession may cause him to perjure himself, as he had previously swore under oath in 2004 to never have used performance-enhancing drugs. Therefore the Department of Justice would have to give him protection from perjury if he were to confess and testify.